Egypt’s High Administrative Court has upheld a ruling that the government’s agreement to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia is invalid. Last year, the government in Cairo appealed against a lower court ruling that the deal was illegal.
The latest ruling is likely to complicate ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia even further. The government in Riyadh has been one of the main financial backers of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi since the military coup in 2013 brought him to power.
People in the courtroom celebrated as the judge delivered the verdict, with lawyers and activists chanting, “These islands are Egyptian.” The court ruled that it was a “unanimous” decision that the two islands in question, Tiran and Sanafir, are sovereign Egyptian territories.
The agreement to hand over the islands, which was signed during a visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman last year — and through which Riyadh would reward Egypt with aid — prompted protests in Egypt. Many Egyptians accused their government of selling the small but strategically-located islands. Cairo has maintained that the islands were under Saudi sovereignty to start with, but had been leased to Egypt in the 1950s.