Egyptian parliamentary committee approves Saudi Red Sea islands deal, refers it for final vote

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 13 Jun 2017

The deal is expected to be voted on in parliament in a plenary session on Wednesday or next week

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 Red Sea between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. (Photo: AFP)

The Egyptian parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee voted on Tuesday in favour of Egypt’s Red Sea island deal with Saudi Arabia, with 35 out of 43 members voting in favour, in preparation for parliament’s vote on the deal in a plenary session tomorrow or next week.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the vote was held in line with Article 151 of the constitution, which gives parliament the “exclusive prerogative” in discussing and deciding on deals with foreign governments.

"Long live Egypt and long live its free army, who would never accept dispensing with the country's land," said Abdel-Aal.

In its report, the legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided that the deal should not be put to a public referendum.

"The deal does not involve ceding Egyptian land or relinquishing its sovereignty over the two islands, as stipulated by Article 151 of the constitution," sources said.

Abdel-Aal adjourned the Tuesday morning meeting held to discuss the deal after divisions among MPs reached a boiling point.

Upon a request from independent MP Kamal Ahmed, the legislative and constitutional affairs committee concluded the debate and took a final vote, preparing a report on the deal to be discussed in a plenary session.

Informed sources said the deal would be further discussed by parliament’s defence and national security committee, which should prepare a report on the deal before it is put up for a vote in a plenary session.

At the beginning of the legislative and constitutional affairs committee’s meeting on Tuesday afternoon, speaker Abdel-Aal told MPs he wants "a democratic discussion of the deal."

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan presented MPs with an atlas book showing that the Palestinian Gaza Strip was one day under Egypt's administration, even though it was not part of Egypt.

"The same applies to the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir, and this is also clear in the atlas book," said Marawan.

When Marawan asked El-Sayed El-Husseini, the head of the Egyptian Geographical Association, to give his opinion before MPs on the atlas book, members of the opposition 25-30 bloc objected, saying that El-Husseini had already addressed MPs four times and “has nothing new to say, but insists that the two islands are Saudi.”

MPs also listened to the testimony of Heidi Farouk, an expert on international borders, who presented 75 American maps and documents showing Tiran and Sanafir as part of Egypt.

However, MPs argued that foreign documents cannot be used as a conclusive proof.

Speaker Abdel-Aal said the Israelis had used American documents and maps in the 1980s to prove that Sinai's Taba city was part of Israel.

“These documents were proven false and the international arbitration court ruled in the end that Taba belonged to Egypt,” said Abdel-Aal.

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