Egypt parliament locked in heated debate over Red Sea islands, as experts present evidence

Ahram Online , Tuesday 13 Jun 2017

The Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee continued debating the Tiran and Sanafir islands issue until the early hours of Tuesday morning

Egyptian parliament
File Photo: A general view of the Egyptian parliament during a working session in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

Heated discussions over the ownership of Tiran and Sanafir islands continued into the early hours of Tuesday morning, with the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee holding a third session on the issue.

Early on Tuesday, parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said that discussions were still ongoing, with members seeking to “reach the full truth regarding Tiran and Sanafir."

The parliamentary committee is debating the ownership of the two Red Sea islands, which the Egyptian government declared the sovereign territory of Saudi Arabia after an Egypt-Saudi demarcation agreement was signed in April 2016.

The deal has been the subject of much controversy since then, and MPs have been debating the issue and examining various documents in the case, with a view to a possible vote by parliament as a whole.

On Tuesday, Abdel-Aal said that several fake maps had been shared on social media incorrectly showing the positions of the two islands. He said the maps were being shared "on purpose by certain bodies to stir up public opinion".

Maps from various sources have been shared on social media over the past year, with both supporters and opponents of the deal presenting maps that serve their purposes.

Abdel-Aal said that only maps coming from the armed forces would be considered in debates on the issue, since they were the only valid, official maps for the area.

Abdel-Aal made the statements after armed forces representative Magd El-Din Barakat told parliament that the armed forces is not interfering in the deal, aside from contributing on technical issues.

He stressed that the armed forces would never relinquish Egyptian sovereign territory.

“No Egyptian blood was spilled on two islands of Tiran and Sanafir, and we have a full documentation of where the martyrs are buried nationwide,” Barakat said.

He said there is no Saudi presence on the two islands, in accordance with the 1979 peace treaty.

Opponents of the deal have argued that Egypt would be giving up territory it obtained as a result of the 1979 peace treaty following war between Egypt and Israel.

Wahdan presented the testimony of a South Sinai investor called Hisham Yehia, who had met with ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2006.

According to Wahdan, Mubarak told Yehia that the islands were Saudi but he wasn’t going to hand them over now.

“In 1986, the owner of a Port Said boat called me to tell me that his boat has been confiscated. He then called the MP of his district to meet with the prime minister to have his boat released. However, the PM said he would not interfere as the land where the boat was seized was Saudi,” Wahdan said, indicating that the location was one of the islands.

The third session also witnessed the withdrawal of demarcation expert Haidy Farouk from the session, following a verbal attack by MP Mortada Mansour. Farouk had suggested that the islands were Egyptian, to which Mansour objected.

During her talk, Farouk said she was instructed by former intelligence chief Omar Sulieman and former defense minister Field Marshall Hussien Tanatawy to research the ownership of the islands. During the research, which she conducted with Ambassador Medhat Kamal of the foreign ministry, she sent through seven boxes of documents from British and American history archives.

She said that her research showed that the islands were indeed Egyptian, being part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and not Saudi’s Hijaz, according to a document from 4 October 1934.

She added that she found 75 documents showing letters and wires exchanged between Egypt, Saudi King Faisal and the American administration, indicating that the Islands were Egyptian territory.

Following her talk, Mansour asked Farouk what her nationality was and queried whether she had indeed received her instructions from Sulieman, causing Farouk to quickly withdraw.

After her withdrawal, members of the opposition parliamentary bloc "25-30", which opposes the deal, engaged in arguments with Mansour, causing Abdel-Aal to intervene.

Several fierce quarrels have erupted in the course of the three days of parliamentary debate.

On Monday, Abdel-Aal said he would adjourn the meeting to prevent it from descending into chaos after the 25-30 group fought with pro-government majority bloc “Support Egypt”.

Abdel-Aal said that a closed-door evening meeting, including only members of the legislative and constitutional affairs committee, would be held at 9pm on Monday.

The Monday altercation took place after the 25-30 parliamentary bloc, which opposes the deal, insisted that parliament was not permitted to discuss the deal until the Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled on legal jurisdiction issues.

The border demarcation deal, which places the two Red Sea islands in Saudi territory, was signed during the visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz to Cairo in April 2016.

The deal has faced a number of legal challenges since it was announced in April 2016, including disputes over which courts have jurisdiction to hear such cases.

In January 2017, the High Administrative Court ruled that the deal was null and void.

In April, however, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters followed with a ruling that administrative courts have no jurisdiction over issues relating to national borders.

“On the ruling of the High Administrative Court, I say for the thousandth time that we will not allow any authority to violate that of the parliament,” Abdel-Aal said on Tuesday.

He reaffirmed the view he expressed on Monday that parliament would not implement any court ruling on the islands.

"As the constitution gives parliament full and exclusive authority to discuss foreign agreements, we will never honour any court rulings, because they would be considered null and void to us," he said on Monday.

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