Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) issued a final ruling on Monday confirming Egypt’s sovereignty over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, stating that the Egyptian government has not provided adequate evidence supporting Saudi Arabia’s claim to the land. According to the ruling, therefore, the executive branch of Egypt’s government does not have the administrative authority to cede the territory to Saudi Arabia.
Judge Ahmed al-Shazly, the vice president of the State Council, announced in court that “the Egyptian military was not an occupying force and the sovereignty of Egypt over Tiran and Sanafir is irrevocable,” in response to the Egyptian government’s claims that the uninhabited islands are Saudi Arabian territory but have been administered by Egypt since the 1950s upon the request of the Gulf monarchy.
In April, a lawsuit was filed in the Court of Administrative Justice (CAJ) to challenge the controversial agreement signed by Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohamed bin Salman during King Salman bin Abdel Aziz’s April 2016 visit to Cairo.
The CAJ ruled in June that Prime Minister Sherif Ismail violated the Constitution by signing the agreement and nullified his signature — the court could not rule on the legitimacy of the agreement itself, however, as international agreements fall outside of its jurisdiction. The government challenged this ruling on several fronts: appealing the decision, filing a request for injunction to stay its implementation, preemptively submitting the deal to Parliament and attempting to circumvent and challenge judicial jurisdiction.
In November, the CAJ approved the request to force the state to implement the annulment of Ismail’s signature and denied the state’s counter-motion.
The report by the State Commissioners Authority on the case, an influence on today’s ruling, recommended that the SAC reject the government’s appeal, stating that “the treaty in question, which will result in giving up sovereignty of Egyptian land, is null and void as the party that signed it violated the Constitution.”
In a press conference following the ruling, prominent rights lawyer Khaled Ali — a member of the legal team who filed the case against the government — stated that Parliament cannot discuss a document nullified by the SAC, warning that if Parliament insists on pursuing this course of action, then it can be held legally accountable.
Ali read out the final paragraph of the ruling to the applause from the audience, saying the ruling would not have been possible without the support of the Egyptian people.
While Monday’s ruling was the final verdict in the appellate process within the State Council regarding the agreement, the state filed a separate appeal in August before the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) claiming the State Council has no jurisdiction over international agreements. This appeal remains pending, having been adjourned to February 12.
Opposition to the border deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia has led to the biggest protest movement since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in June 2014, in which a large number of demonstrators have been arrested on charges of illegal protest. Others have been prosecuted on charges of disseminating false information after publicly stating that the two islands are Egyptian, including prominent rights lawyer Malek Adly and journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka.