The problem does not lie in the fact that the sovereignty over the two islands has been transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. This is because we were raised to believe that “all Arab countries are our country”, that we are one nation, and that the lines set by colonialism or anything earlier are meaningless.
Therefore, the problem is definitely not the fact that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir were handed over to Saudi Arabia, and there should not be any problem between any Arab countries over territories and borders. We have always dreamt and will continue to dream that these Arab countries become one, not separated by borders, lines, names, or flags. The major problem lies in the drawing of borders, not in Egypt’s concession of the two islands to Saudi Arabia, or the concession of any land or sea for that matter. We view Saudi Arabia and Egypt as one country, not two, and believe there is nothing that sets and Egyptian and Saudi individual apart other than their faith and their loyalty to Arabism and their nation. The real problem, or problems, is the ramifications of the agreement to determine naval borders and its resulting political and economic consequences on Egypt and the Egyptians, making some of these problems true catastrophes.
Regardless of whether the two islands belong to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, this issue dates back many decades, and no one knows how it was recently resolved or determined. The most important observations we can make about the border demarcation agreement, or the agreement to hand Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia is that it was signed by President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, who has come from his military barracks. This means that the Egyptian army, who has been tasked with protecting the land and people, are the ones who signed the agreement to concede the two islands. This requires us to refer to the army’s “combat charter” with regards to the army conceding its land, it also provokes great fears that other Egyptian territories will be conceded in the context of settling old disputes with other countries, or in the context of requesting financial aid from other countries.
Some of the most important ramifications of the agreement to concede Tiran and Sanafir are as follows:
First, the army’s concession of these two islands, or any piece of Egyptian land to another country means that it is willing to concede other areas such as Halayeb, on the border with Sudan and Sinai on the border with Palestine. It may have already conceded or could concede in the future regional waters in the narrow area of the Red Sea, the sovereignty over which is currently divided between Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Israeli occupation.
Secondly, Egypt’s concession of the islands in exchange for cash or future projects and investments indicates that the economic crisis in Egypt has escalated to the point that the Egyptian government was forced to agree to something it had not agreed to in over 100 years (the two islands have been under Egyptian sovereignty since 1901). This means that the Egyptian economy is on the brink of collapse, but what is more dangerous is the fact that Al-Sisi’s government may agree to anything in order to prevent it from collapsing.
Thirdly, the way the agreement to hand over Tiran and Sanafir was accepted and promoted is similar to that of an initial public offering (IPO), i.e. Al-Sisi’s government is sending messages to others saying that they are willing to settle disputes in exchange for money. This means that Sudan, Israel and Ethiopia may hand over cash or investments in exchange for resolving their issues with Egypt, and this is a catastrophe. Negotiations today with Egypt will be based on the fact that it is experiencing a crisis and that it’s facing a financial crisis and an issue of liquidity, nothing more.
I will end by saying that there is no problem with transferring the sovereignty of the two islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. The problem is that the government is willing to sell land in exchange for survival, and that a military official is willing to sell his country in order to preserve his position.
The other thing we must consider is that the economic crisis experienced by Egypt cannot be resolved by conceding or selling islands, nor by attracting Gulf and foreign investments worth billions. The only solution is to build a modern civil state with a free and open economy in which civilians work, not one dominated by the military. Egypt is a country that is rich in its people and resources and it is in need of a democratic, civilian and peaceful transformation, nothing else.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.