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Egypt stalling implementation of Red Sea islands transfer to Saudi Arabia, report says

December 23, 2022 at 9:05 am

A picture taken on January 14, 2014 through the window of an airplane 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 [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]

Egypt is stalling the implementation of an agreement to hand over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, only a week before its intended date amid ongoing disagreements with the United States.

In what apparently marked a significant Middle East foreign policy achievement for the administration of President Joe Biden, it was agreed during his visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia in July that US peacekeeping forces would leave the islands and that cameras would replace their presence until the kingdom took over sovereignty.

While US-led multinational observers are required to leave the islands by the end of December, Israeli officials who spoke to the news outlet Axios have revealed that the agreement will not be implemented by that date due to reservations by the Egyptian side. Those reservations raised in recent weeks are reportedly mostly of a technical nature, including regarding the installation of cameras on the islands.

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The Egyptian reservations and alleged concerns were, according to the anonymous US and Israeli sources, brought up last week when White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the latter’s visit to Washington for the US-Africa summit.

It is believed that Cairo is holding up the deal due to ongoing bilateral issues it has with Washington, a major one of which includes a decrease in American military assistance to Egypt over human rights concerns regarding Sisi’s government.

Over the past two years, the Biden administration has twice frozen ten per cent of the roughly $1.3 billion in military aid it allocates to Egypt on an annual basis, with a US senator having blocked a further $75 million in October.

The delay in the deal’s implementation from the Egyptian side is, therefore, seen as an effort to pressure the Biden administration into releasing those funds and into meeting other demands.