Egypt government appeals court block on islands’ transfer to Saudi Arabia

Sunday 19/06/2016
Government will present all documents it has

CAIRO - Egypt's government said Wednesday it had lodged an appeal against a court decision to block the controversial handover of two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The deal over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir prompted some of the largest public protests in two years when it was signed in April.

The country's State Council ruled on Tuesday that the islands, strategically situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, must remain under Egyptian sovereignty.

"The government will present all the documents it has to demonstrate the integrity and strength of the case it presented to the Supreme Administrative Court which has the right to rule on the case," the prime minister's office said in a statement Wednesday.

"It will also present a dossier containing documents and maps that will assist in resolving the case."

The government argues that the islands -- which can be used to control access to the Israeli port of Eilat -- have always been Saudi territory but were leased to Cairo in 1950 following a request by Riyadh.

It says the deal to transfer them was based on a decree by since-ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Cairo says Mubarak had even informed the United Nations about the matter in 1990.

The deal, signed during a visit to Cairo by Saudi Arabia's King Salman in April, prompted an outcry from many Egyptians, and sparked protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Sisi, whose government depends heavily on Saudi largesse, faced criticism on social media for "selling" the islands in return for multi-billion-dollar investment deals with Riyadh.

More than 100 people were jailed for up to five years for taking part in demonstrations against the deal that police quickly dispersed, but they were later freed on appeal.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is one of the main regional backers of Sisi, a former army chief who has overseen a crackdown on the opposition since ousting his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.