Thursday, April 14, 2016

Egypt cedes two islands to Saudi Arabia as being in Saud territorial waters

The Egyptian cabinet announced that technical work on the maritime boundary between Egypt and Saudi Arabia showed that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir were both within Saudi territorial waters.

Some opposition figures in Egypt reacted angrily to the move. The announcement came as King Salman of Saudi Arabia was on a five-day visit to Cairo. King Salman addressed parliament on Sunday to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. The Saudis have given significant financial and diplomatic backing to President Abdel el-Sisi since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi back in 2013.
Tiran and Sanafir are at the southern entry to the Gulf of Aqaba. Both Jordan and Israel have important ports at the north end of the Gulf. The islands are uninhabited except for a few Egyptian military personnel and Multianational Force Observers on Tiran that is closest to Egypt.
Egyptian president Sisi's opponent in the 2014 presidential election, Hamdeen Sabahi, said the handover of the islands was against the Egyptian constitution which prohibits ceding any territory. He said that Sisi and Salman should withdraw an agreement they signed on steps to define the maritime boundaries between the two countries. Five people were arrested when they attempted to stage a protest against the handover. Khaled Ali, a prominent lawyer said he would file a court case against the handover.
The Egyptian government explained the move by saying that Egyptian forces had just temporarily protected the islands after a request by the Saudi Arabian king in 1950. Opponents of the move say a 1906 treaty between the UK and the Ottoman Empire had put the islands in Egyptian territory. Saudi Arabia is planning to build a bridge over the narrow straight separating the Sinai in Egypt from Saudi Arabia. The bridge would use one of the islands, Tiran as a stepping stone to Egypt. Tiran is only about 6 kilometers or four miles from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt may be giving the Saudis the islands as a way of ensuring that they will build the bridge to the Sinai. As it is now, to get from Egypt to Saudi Arabia by land one must go through Israel and Jordan at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Israel was kept informed of the transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia. It expressed no concern as Saudi Arabia agreed to honor the treaty that Israel had with Egypt to allow Israel freedom of navigation through the straits into the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba.

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