Egypt's top administrative court has struck down a controversial agreement between Cairo and Riyadh. The maritime pact drew condemnation from opposition leaders and sparked protests on the streets.
The Supreme Administrative Court on Monday upheld a lower court's ruling that the transfer of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia was unconstitutional. In a "unanimous" decision, Egypt's top administrative court said the islands were legally Egyptian territory.
The agreement was signed last April during a visit by Saudi King Salman, who was in Cairo to announce various multi-billion-dollar investment deals with Egypt. Cairo argued that the uninhabited islands had only been under its protection following a request by Saudi Arabia's then-king, Abdul Aziz, in 1950. But the plan sparked anger from political opponents and activists, who accused the government of selling off territory in exchange for Saudi aid money.
Two demonstrations were held in the Egyptian capital that same month to protest the deal, and more than 100 of the participants were subsequently arrested.
A victory for the opposition
The courtroom erupted into celebration following Monday's ruling. Activists lifted Khaled Ali, an ex-presidential candidate and the head lawyer opposing the deal, onto their shoulders while supporters chanted "This land is Egyptian!"
"The verdict is a message to [Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi: 'Shame, shame on you!'" said Azza Suliman, a women's rights activist who had attended the trial, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling is certain to come as a blow to el-Sissi, who has faced growing pressure to enact a series of austerity measures in order to secure $12 billion (11.3 billion euros) in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It could also heighten tensions between Cairo and Riyadh, which has diverged from its Middle Eastern ally over the conflict in Syria.
El-Sissi has been in power since leading a 2013 military coup that overthrew the country's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohammed Morsi. Under his rule, Egypt has seen a large-scale crackdown on dissent, with thousands of dissidents jailed.
blc/se (AP, AFP)