Egypt's Sissi Ratifies Contested Deal Ceding Two Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia

Decision to handover islands to Saudis has raised an uproar in Egypt

This file photo taken on January 14, 2014, through the window of an airplane shows the Red Sea's Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has ratified a maritime demarcation agreement that sees his country cede sovereignty over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, the government said in a statement on Saturday.

The Red Sea islands deal has become political sensitive for Sissi, who counts on Saudi Arabia as a key ally, after the proposed agreement fueled widespread public criticism and street protests among Egyptians angered over national sovereignty. 

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Egypt's parliament last week backed the plan that cedes control of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, but the deal has also become subject to a legal tussle between different courts over jurisdiction. 

"President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has ratified the maritime demarcation agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the cabinet said in a statement. 

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This week the constitutional court chief temporarily suspended all court decisions on the agreement until the constitutional court makes a ruling on which institution has the final say in the matter. 

Sissi's government last year announced the maritime agreement with Saudi Arabia, an ally which has given billions of dollars of aid to Egypt. The Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands are Saudi but have been subject to Egyptian protection. 

Saudi Arabia helped Sissi with aid since he toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. 

But Egyptians are increasing critical over the state of the country's economic revival after years of political upheaval and a devaluation of the Egyptian pound, tax rises and subsidy cuts introduced by Sissi's government.