Egypt's president ratifies disputed Saudi islands pact

Fattah al Sisi speaks during a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon in Arlington VA

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi has ratified a maritime demarcation agreement that sees the country cede sovereignty over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, the government said on Saturday.

Mr Sisi has said the islands always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis asked Egypt to station troops there in 1950 to protect them.

After last year's administrative court ruling, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted fuel shipments to Egypt, part of its aid deal.

The maritime demarcation deal was signed a year ago during a rare visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Egypt and the majority of members voted for it.

The Egyptian Parliament on Wednesday approved the transfer of the uninhabited islands.

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An aerial view of the coast of the Red Sea and the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir is pictured through the window of an airplane near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 1, 2016.

Opponents of the agreement insist that Tiran and Sanafir have always been Egyptian and criticize the Egyptian government for "selling" Egyptian territories in exchange for billions of dollars of Saudi aid.

ISTANBUL • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday he backed Qatar's response to a list of demands issued by Arab states, and said calls for a Turkish military base there to close were disrespectful. "It shows Sisi's administration doesn't feel there is much of a risk to be taken".

Sisi, who came to power following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, has argued that the return is a matter of "constitutions and laws and legitimate rights, not whims or emotions", and says that it is not the prerogative of the legal, but the executive branch to decide the islands' fate.

However, from the constitutional point of view, "the deal hasn't been finally settled yet, because if the Constitutional Court would deem the deal as null on July 30, it means the president's ratification is also void", al-Sayed pointed out.

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