An Egyptian court has struck down a government plan to hand two Red Sea islands over to Saudi Arabia. The controversial border deal had led to some of the biggest protests seen during President El-Sissi's rule.
Cheers broke out in the administrative court Tuesday as the judge declared the maritime border agreement with Saudi Arabia null and void.
The controversial accord, which would have seen Egypt lose control of two Red Sea islands, was announced in April during a high-profile visit to Cairo by Saudi King Salman.
The agreement sparked an outcry in Egypt, where many see ownership of the islands as a matter of national pride. Thousands of people demonstrated in the streets and hundreds were later arrested in a police crackdown on activists.
Reading out the verdict on Tuesday, Judge Yahya Dakroury said the islands should remain sovereign Egyptian territory and banned "any changes on the two islands for the benefit of any foreign country."
Khaled Daoud, a leading figure in the campaign against the handover of the islands, told German Press Agency DPA that the ruling was "a major victory." He added that he hoped "all the ... young men who remain in prison for protesting against this agreement will be released."
The strategic islands, Tiran and Sanfir, lie between Saudi Arabia and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Although many Egyptians learn in school that the islands belong to Egypt, the Egyptian government said a joint committee of experts had established the islands were originally Saudi territory. Officials said they were only under Egyptian control because Saudi Arabia in 1950 had asked Cairo to protect them.
Dozens of activists were given jail sentences for protesting against the government's accord with Saudi Arabia
Tuesday's verdict is a blow for President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who had appealed to Egyptians for calm, arguing that the deal would bring economic benefits to Egypt.
Government critics allege the island handover was payback for billions of dollars in aid and financing provided by Saudi Arabia after el-Sissi overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. That money, as well as contributions from other Gulf Arab states, has helped keep the struggling Egyptian economy afloat.
Tuesday's ruling is not final, and may be challenged by the state in a higher court.
nm/kl (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)