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The curtain has yet to fall on the two islands’ issue

Egyptian people protest during the final session in the case of two Red Sea islands in Cairo, Egypt on January 16 2017 [Mohamed El Raai - Anadolu Agency]
Egyptian people protest during the final session in the case of two Red Sea islands in Cairo, Egypt on January 16 2017 [Mohamed El Raai - Anadolu Agency]

Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that the islands of Sanafir and Tiran in the Red Sea are Egyptian, but refused to challenge a lower court which ruled earlier that they belong to Saudi Arabia. This sets a historic precedent, unlike any other; it will certainly be the first and last of its kind. In fact, this precedent reveals a government fighting and trying desperately to prove that a part of its territory is actually owned by another country; a government whose president gloats that he has been determined to “return” these islands to Saudi Arabia since he took office. To make matters worse, some Egyptian writers, journalists and MPs curse those who want to hold on to their land; they are inciting Saudi Arabia to expel its Egyptian workers. These same individuals are also cursing the ruling and the judge who issued it and are urging Saudi Arabia to file a suit in the International Criminal Court. This is an absurd scenario of a kind that rarely, if ever, happens anywhere else in the world. Egypt truly is the land of wonders and has become a global laughing stock.

It is a well-known fact that most countries hold on to their land and fight against foreign occupation of even a handful of their soil. Colonial powers do not leave any country under their occupation voluntarily; they have to be forced out. Colonial armies and settlers leave occupied countries in tears and burn everything in their wake out of spite and revenge. Imagine, therefore, what they’d do if the land was actually theirs.

These are the natural feelings of citizens who love their country and feel a genuine affiliation with it. However, what is happening in Egypt is absurd even in the land of absurdity. For the record, by the way, I wasn’t happy about the court ruling, but I was happy for the Egyptian people — who are in much need of something to be happy about — after hearing the judgement. The people’s cheers may have reached far and wide, but why would I be happy to have land that already belongs to us? I wasn’t waiting for a court ruling to prove to me that these two islands belong to Egypt. Every map since the Islamic caliphate proved to me that these two islands were within Egypt’s borders.

The question now is will the curtain fall on this issue and will the government close the case. The answer is simple: of course not, because it is a deep issue, with many dimensions about which Saudi Arabia is not concerned. In fact, Saudi Arabia is completely outside this affair; King Salman Bin Abdulaziz said that his country did not ask for the islands, but Egypt’s Al-Sisi actually offered them to him.

The real issue about the islands concerns Israel, which wants to control them and the sea surrounding them; it wants them to become international waters over which Egypt has no control. This way, Israel can control the sea lanes, and Egypt cannot stop it; that’s what happened before the 1967 war when Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Strait of Tiran, preventing Israeli ships from getting from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea. This is really what this issue is about and why Al-Sisi and his supporters are fighting to give up the islands.

They are thus making a show of presenting the agreement to the House of Representatives for discussion while everyone knows that the members of the committee were handpicked by the intelligence agency under the pretext of it being the only body authorised to look into the issue, not the judiciary, while claiming that the court ruling has no value in determining Egypt’s or Saudi Arabia’s ownership of the islands. Have you ever seen or heard anything more patriotic than this?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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