Egypt MPs say although an administrative court ruled Tuesday that Egypt should not cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, they are still the ones who have the final say on this deal when it comes up for debate before parliament next month.
The biggest reaction to an administrative court ruling on Tuesday that two Red Sea islands – Tiran and Sanafir – should remain Egyptian rather than become a part of Saudi waters was in parliamentary circles. Most of MPs said regardless of any judicial rulings they are the ones who have the final say on the Egyptian-Saudi deal on the two islands.
Kamal Amer, chairman of parliament's Defence and National Security Committee, told reporters Wednesday that article 151 of the constitution grants the president of the republic the power to take charge of the country's foreign affairs and signing of agreements and that these will be endorsed only after they gain the approval of parliament (the House of Representatives).
"We respect judicial authorities and we respect court rulings, but regardless of any rulings in this respect, it is parliament that has the final constitutional power to say yes or no to foreign agreements signed by the president and the government," Amer said.
Amer, a former military intelligence chief, explained that "when the Egyptian-Saudi agreement comes up for debate before parliament, a special committee will be formed to decide first whether this agreement should be a matter of public referendum or not."
"In light of article 151, we will see whether this agreement will negatively affect any of Egypt's sovereignty rights, and if not there will not be a referendum and it will be just enough for parliament to debate and vote on it," he continued.
Mostafa Bakri, an independent MP and journalist, said in a television interview Tuesday that he expects that the Egyptian-Saudi agreement on the two Red Sea islands – signed during Saudi King Salman's visit to Cairo on 8 April – will be discussed by parliament next month. "I insist that article 151 of the constitution gives parliament the final say on this agreement regardless of any court rulings," said Bakri.
The ultraconservative Salafist Nour party – the only Islamist force in parliament with 11 MPs – said in a statement Tuesday that the administrative court ruling on Tiran and Sanafir islands is not final. "This is a first instance ruling and by no means it strips parliament of discussing and voting on the agreement on these two islands," the Nour party statement said.
The statement also indicated that article 151 of the constitution clarifies that any foreign agreements can go into effect only after they gain the approval of parliament. "The Egyptian-Saudi deal on Tiran and Sanafir is a foreign agreement and as a result they must be discussed and voted by parliament," the statement read.
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of parliament's human rights committee, told reporters that the administrative court ruling on the two Red Sea islands have caused divisions inside and outside parliament. "But at the end we still have a long way until we have a final say on this agreement," said Sadat, adding that "while the ruling itself is still not final and could be repealed, parliament has the main task of reviewing this agreement, discussing it and then putting it to a vote."
Margaret Azer, deputy chairman of parliament's human rights committee, said the administrative court ruling Tuesday was based only on documents submitted by lawyers and activists who filed this case. "Even if the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Administrative Court and as a result was made final, it would still be a must for parliament to discuss and vote it in line with article 151 of the constitution," said Azer,
"In parliament, all the documents and maps on this agreement will be available for discussion in detail by MPs and experts. There will be hearing sessions to decide first whether this agreement needs a public referendum and then whether the two islands remain Egyptian or will be placed into Saudi hands," she added.
On the other side of the floor, a number of MPs told reporters that they prefer that the Egyptian-Saudi agreement on the two Red Sea islands be sent to parliament only after courts give a final ruling on it.
Sadat said he agrees with minister of parliamentary affairs Magdi Al-Agati who announced yesterday that the agreement will be presented to parliament only after it is settled by the Supreme Administrative Court. Al-Agati told the media on Wednesday that the government has appealed the ruling before the Supreme Administrative Court and as a result the agreement will be sent to parliament only after the court hands down a final verdict.
Sadat said that "it will be a big mistake if the agreement comes to parliament while it is still being deliberated by courts. In many previous cases, parliament chose to refrain from discussing issues that were a matter of deliberation before justice."
Tamer Al-Shahawi, deputy chairman of parliament's Defence and National Security Committee, also told reporters that although yesterday's ruling is not final, it is binding for all state authorities, including parliament.
"In light of the principle of separation of powers, I recommend that this agreement should come to parliament only after it is settled by courts," said Al-Shahawi, adding that "if this ruling was repealed by the Supreme Administrative Court, I think it would be just enough for parliament to discuss and vote it."
"But if the Supreme Constitutional Court decided to uphold yesterday's ruling and stat that this agreement leads to Egypt ceding part of its sovereign rights, it would be necessary that the people give a final vote on it in a public referendum and in line with article 151," said Al-Shahawi. "In this case parliament will have no role at all."