Egypt govt appeals court decision voiding Saudi-Egyptian islands deal

El-Sayed Gamal El-Din , Tuesday 21 Jun 2016

An administrative court ruled two Red Sea islands should remain Egyptian and forbids the government from tampering with their status

Tiran and Sanafir
A picture taken on January 14, 2014 through the window of an airplane shows the Red Sea's Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Straits of Tiran between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia (AFP)

Egypt's State Lawsuits Authority – the body representing the government in legal cases – has appealed Tuesday's agreement-quashing ruling that voided a decision by the government to place two islands in the Red Sea under Saudi Arabia's sovereignty. 

In a statement issued late Tuesday, the cabinet stressed, nevertheless, that it respects the Egyptian judiciary.

Egypt's Administrative Court ruled on Tuesday morning that the 8 April border re-demarcation agreement that placed the two Egyptian Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters is void, adding that they should remain under Egyptian sovereignty.

The judge who issued the ruling, State Council Vice President Judge Yehia El-Dakroury, reasoned that since the agreement was void, "the islands should remain part of Egyptian territory and within Egyptian borders; Egyptian sovereignty over the islands holds, and it forbidden to change their status in any form or through any procedure for the benefit of any other state."

The judicial source had told Ahram Online that "the ruling disregarded all [arguments] presented by the government," the source said.

The source added that the government has not attempted a final administrative move to execute the deal. He claimed that the report by the State Comissioners Office - which issues recommendations to the administrative court - was unlawful, and that the judiciary has no jurisdiction over the islands issue since it is a question of sovereignty.

The agreement, which was signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia during a five-day visit by Saudi King Salman to Cairo, stipulated that the two islands in the southern entrance of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba fall within Saudi waters, thus paving the way for a transfer of sovereignty to Riyadh.

Egyptian rights lawyer Khaled Ali and a number of other lawyers had filed a lawsuit with Egypt's Administrative Court at the State Council arguing that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Al had wrongfully waived Egyptian sovereignty rights over the two islands.

Future scenarios open: Expert

The Administrative Court's ruling will be respected by all state powers until the Supreme Administrative Court issues a final decision in the case of an appeal, Shawki El-Sayed, a constitution expert told Ahram Online.

Article 50 of the State Council Law reads: "An appeal before the Supreme Administrative Court does not stop the execution of a ruling which is being appealed, unless the Appeals Examination Department decides otherwise."

The Supreme Administrative Court has the right to overturn the ruling or to uphold it, El-Sayed said, adding that its decision will depend on the reasoning given by the judge for Tuesday's ruling.

El-Sayed explained that the content of the specific reasoning the judge gives for issuing the ruling would impact possible future actions, El-Sayed said.

For instance, El-Sayed explained, a reasoning which is based on procedural considerations - such as parliament needs to discuss the agreement first then approve it - would be dealt with differently than a reasoning based on administrative considertions, such as documents the court examined to prove Egyptian sovereignty over the islands.

"So we need to wait for the Supreme Administrative Court's ruling," El-Sayed concluded.

"I expect that in case of a government appeal, the Supreme Administrative Court will issue a ruling quickly to settle the debate, since it is an important case related to international relations and sovereignty rights," El-Sayed said.

Deal in limbo

The deal sparked widespread street protests during which dozens of demonstrators were arrested and put on trial for illegally protesting.

Most of those who stood trial were acquitted in court, but 47 defendants paid EGP 100,000 in fines.

Lawyer Malek Adly, one of the lawyers who co-filed the lawsuit with Ali against the deal, has been in detention since late April, facing charges of spreading false rumours and inciting protests against the agreement.

Egypt's House of Representatives had not yet discussed or ratified the agreement.

However, the Saudi Shura Council approved the deal on 25 April and the Saudi cabinet followed suit on 2 May.

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