Egyptian Court Allows Contested Hand Over of Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia

Egyptian president al-Sissi has come under fierce criticism over the deal, with opponents saying the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh is a land sell-off.

A file photo from 2014 shows the Red Sea's Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Strait of Tiran between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia.

An Egyptian court ruled on Sunday in favor of the government's controversial deal to hand over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Cairo's Court for Urgent Matters ruled against a verdict by a separate court in January that banned the handover of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh.

Egypt signed a border agreement with Saudi Arabia in April 2016 which would have seen the islands of Tiran and Sanafir come under Riyadh's control. 

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi came under fierce criticism from opponents, who saw it as a land sell-off, with mass protests erupting across Egypt and legal challenges mounting.

The Egyptian government, however, argued that the islands have only been administered by Egypt since the 1950s upon the request of the Gulf monarchy.

Sanafir and Tiran are located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, controlling the narrow shipping lanes running to and from the Red Sea port cities of Eilat and Aqaba, in Israel and Jordan, to the north.

The fate of the two islands has been at the heart of friction between Riyadh and Cairo over a string of regional issues, including Syria and Yemen. Last September, Saudi Arabia unilaterally suspended fuel shipments to Egypt agreed during Salman's visit to Egypt, forcing Cairo to scurry for alternative sellers.