Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court [official website] has temporarily halted decisions regarding a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia until it can establish who has jurisdiction over them. The Egyptian government transferred the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, based on the belief that they had always belonged to Saudi Arabia. In June 2016 the transfer was invalidated [JURIST report] by a lower court in Cairo but that decision was overturned by a separate court. Last week Egypt’s parliament [official website] agreed [Reuters report] to go through with the plan despite public criticism. Both the Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands, which have been under Egyptian protection since 1950, are Saudi territory. The Egyptian people, however, are eager for an economic revival after years of political upheaval and believe Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands was establish before Saudi Arabia was founded.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Egypt has been getting closer since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took power in Egypt. Saudi Arabia, an ally of Egypt, has provided Sisi’s government with billions of dollars in aid after he replaced President Mohamed Mursi [BBC profile] of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. El-Sisi has been viewed by many in the international community as a moderate leader compared to previous Egyptian presidents who were often embroiled in scandals and accusations of corruption. Former president Hosni Mubarak was released from prison [JURIST report] in March after six years in custody. Mubarak and other members of his administration have been consistently involved in judicial proceedings since the Egyptian Revolution [JURIST backgrounder]. In October 2015 another Egyptian court ordered [JURIST report] the release of Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, after holding that they have completed their three-year prison sentences for embezzlement. Last November, Egypt’s Court of Cassation [official website, in Arabic] overturned the life sentences [JURIST report] of former president Mohamed Morsi and 16 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi had been convicted [Al Jazeera report] for conspiring with the Palestinian Hamas and other foreign militant groups. In 2015 Egypt and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement [JURIST report] to improve stability and safety in the region.