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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

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Egypt Court Rules against Handing Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia

(17 January 2017)

An Egyptian court has upheld a ruling halting a plan to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The High Administrative Court rejected a controversial government plan to stop it handing over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.

The transfer deal, signed last April, generated protests in Egypt and was challenged at an administrative court by a group of lawyers, including former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, arguing that a 1906 maritime treaty between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire stated that the islands were Egyptian.

As a result, in June, the court nullified the border accord to transfer the islands, ruling that Egyptian sovereignty over the islands could not be amended in favour of another state.

The government subsequently lodged an appeal with the High Administrative Court, but the court ruled that it was the "unanimous" decision of its judges that Tiran and Sanafir were sovereign Egyptian territories.

Tiran and Sanafir are located in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and Israel. Saudi and Egyptian officials say they belong to Saudi Arabia and have been under Egyptian control only because Riyadh asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them. The islands are uninhabited, apart from Egyptian military personnel and multi-national peacekeepers, since 1982.