Members of the Egyptian parliament attend the opening session at the main headquarters of Parliament in Cairo, Egypt, January 10, 2016. (Reuters)
An Egyptian association led by several authors of the nation's 2014 constitution has called upon parliament to "reconsider" its decision to debate and vote on the planned transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, citing legal and constitutional objections.
In a statement on Sunday, the Egyptian Association to Protect the Constitution said that the island-transfer deal is unconstitutional without a referendum and that parliament should at least wait for a final legal ruling before proceeding with a vote.
In April 2016, the Egyptian government signed a border-demarcation deal with Saudi Arabia, according to which the strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir were placed under to Saudi control. The Egyptian government claimed that the islands had always been Saudi territory, despite Egyptian guardianship.
However, the move sparked vocal opposition in Egypt and has been the subject of ongoing legal battles, with courts issuing conflicting rulings amid disputes over which court has jurisdiction in the case.
On Sunday, parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee is set to discuss the agreement and decide whether to put it up for a general vote in parliament.
In its Sunday statement, the association said that the 2014 constitution stipulates the need for a referendum on peace agreements, coalitions, and matters of sovereignty, and that parliament should only ratify such deals after their approval by way of a referendum has been announced in parliament.
“The current constitution contains conclusive texts that guarantee the unity of Egyptian territory,” the statement read.
It cited an article in the constitution that states: “In all cases, no treaty may be concluded... which results in ceding any part of state territories."
The association also said that no further decisions should be made on the deal without legal clarification.
"At the very minimum, the association calls for postponing [parliamentary] discussion on the deal until the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on the legal dispute.”
The rejection of the islands-transfer deal is necessary to “maintain the social fabric at a time that we need to join ranks to combat terrorism and overcome the economic crisis,” said the association.
The association also commented on the ongoing legal dispute over the islands deal, including the disagreement over which court has jurisdiction.
It said that, according to Article 190 of the constitution, the State Council has the “exclusive jurisdiction to settle administrative disputes and disputes relevant to the execution of all its rulings.”
However, the association said that this article was breached in April when the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters issued a ruling on the matter, overturning a January ruling from the High Administrative Court, which said the deal was null and void.
The court for urgent matters had ruled that aministrative courts have no jurisdiction over border deals, and are therefore not in a position to declare them null and void.
In November 2016, the government filed a case with the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), arguing that the High Administrative Court had no jurisdiction in matters related to sovereignty and that any verdicts it might issue should be anulled.
The SCC has not yet announce whether it will hear the case.
The Egyptian Association to Protect the Constitution was launched in March 2016 by a number of prominent Egyptian political and societal figures to create a “constitutional culture” in the country. The head of the institution’s board is former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
Other members of the organization include former head of the journalists syndicate Yehia Qalash, political analyst Amr El-Shobaky, university professor Hoda El-Sada, prominent heart surgeon Magdy Yacoub, and novelist Bahaa Taher.