Egyptian parliament approves Red Sea island deal with majority vote

Ahram Online , Wednesday 14 Jun 2017

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

Following a series of parliamentary hearings this week, the Egyptian parliament approved a maritime border demarcation deal that places the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, currently under Egyptian control, in Saudi Arabia's territorial waters.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs in a plenary session on Wednesday morning that the final debate and vote on the deal would be democratic.

"We are an old parliament established 150 years ago, and as a result we should conduct a democratic and objective dialogue on the deal," said Abdel-Aal, adding that "we are all under one flag, live in the Egyptian state, and we all, opponents or proponents, are patriots who love their country."

Abdel-Aal said the discussion of the deal came after the legislative and constitutional affairs committee held four meetings before voting on the agreement.

"As many as 250 MPs [out of a total of 596], in addition to experts who were members of the national committee that negotiated the deal, attended the meetings," said Abdel-Aal, adding that "experts in geography, land survey, history, geology and maritime demarcation were also invited to give their say on the deal."

Abdel-Aal said experts who were both in favor and against the deal were in attendance.

"I also want to point out that an international agreement on maritime borders in 1982 has defined the technical basics according to which borders among countries should be drawn," said Abdel-Aal.

According to Abdel-Aal, a national committee including members of the Armed Forces negotiated the deal.

"We trust the Armed Forces because they would never agree to the dispensing of any part of the country's land," said Abdel-Aal, adding that "as a result, we have nothing to hide because we are all keen on achieving national interests."

Supporters and opponents of the deal engaged in heated debates on the agreement in three sessions held on Monday and Tuesday by the parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee.

Shortly after the vote on Wednesday afternoon, which was conducted by a show of hands in the general session, MPs from the opposition 25/30 bloc, which opposes the deal, said the parliament's discussion and vote on the deal was "invalid."

Haitham El-Hariri, a leading member of the group, said during a press conference on Wednesday that around a 100 MPs have signed a petition objecting to the passing of the agreement.

Dozens of MPs are contemplating mass resignation in protest of the approval of the deal, according to Nadia Henry, another member of the opposition group.

The border demarcation deal, which places the two Red Sea islands in Saudi territory, was signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia in April 2016.

The deal has faced a number of legal challenges by opponents and led to 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 Monday, MPs who opposed the deal argued that parliament should not discuss the deal without a ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court on legal jurisdiction complaints.

Today, the head of the national security and defence committee Kamal Amer said that "MPs who reviewed the deal agreed that Tiran and Sanafir are part of Saudi territorial waters."

"But we are sure that although the two islands belong to Saudi Arabia, they will remain ready to serve Egyptian and Arab national security," said Amer.

Amer also said that after Saudi Arabia asked Egypt in 1988 and 1990 to hand the two islands over to Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian government issued a decree in 1990 stating that the two islands belong to Saudi Arabia.

Amer said the deal will serve the national interests of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"I also want to highlight that the legislative and constitutional affairs committee has concluded that the deal does not violate Article 151 of the constitution, because it does not involve the ceding of Egyptian land," said Amer.

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