Egypt court rejects transferring Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi-Arabia

An Egyptian court rejected a government plan to transfer two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in a final ruling that prompted cheers in the courtroom that could deepen tensions with the country’s erstwhile financial backer. “Lastly, it has resided in the court’s belief that Egypt’s sovereignty on Tiran and Sanafir is indisputable,” said Ahmed El Shazli, Presiding Judge.

Egypt’s government announced during a visit by the Saudi king, in April of last year, a maritime demarcation accord that would see it cede control of Tiran and Sanafir, citing the fact that the two Islands fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia. The deal prompted protests from Egyptians who said the islands historically belonged to them, becoming a source of tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which showered its ally with tens of billions of dollars in aid in recent years, but suspended petroleum supplies in September of last year, amid growing differences.

The two strategically located Islands have been a cause of concern for Israel as well, since the Strait of Tiran is the only access-point from the Gulf of Aqaba, where Israel’s port of Eilat is located, to the Red Sea. In 1967, when then Egyptian President Gamal Abd al-Nasser closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping, Israel responded by capturing the Islands by force, during of the historic Six Day War.  

Tiran remained under Israeli control until 1982, when the Jewish state returned the islands to Egypt as part of the peace treaty signed in 1979 between the two countries, which included a guarantee of freedom of Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.

Thus, as part of the agreement by Egypt to cede the islands to Saudi Arabia required the approval of Israel to modify the military annex to the peace treaty which was reportedly granted by Jerusalem, even though Saudi Arabia on paper is considered to be an enemy of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, now that the Egyptian court rejected the government’s attempt to handover the Islands to Saudi Arabia, the status-quo of the maritime proceedings will be maintained.