Several political groupings and oppositional parties organized a press conference on Sunday to reject Parliament’s debate and upcoming vote on a maritime border agreement with Saudi Arabia, slated to involve the handover of the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
The rejection of the debate is based on the fact that after nine months of lawsuits and protests around the issue, the Supreme Administrative Court issued a final ruling in January confirming that the two islands fall under the sovereignty of Cairo, not Riyadh.
The debate is set to continue on Monday morning and is expected to prepare a recommendation to be presented to the General Assembly on Tuesday ahead of a vote.
Sunday’s press conference was held at the Dostour Party headquarters in Giza’s Dokki neighborhood, and was attended by the liberal Dostour Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the left-leaning Bread and Freedom Party, the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, the Islamic-oriented Strong Egypt Party, the Nasserist-oriented Karama Current Party, the Leninist-Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists, and the liberal April 6th Youth Movement.
Participants included former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Khaled Ali, along with ousted chief of the Central Auditing Authority Hesham Geneina, expelled member of Parliament Mohamed Anwar Sadat, critical journalist Khaled al-Balshy, National Council for Human Rights member George Ishaq and former Ambassador Maasoum Marzouk. Dozens of activists from other parties and political movements also attended.
Notably absent from the press conference were the video cameras from Egypt’s mainstream television channels.
Speaking on behalf of the conference organizers, Balshy announced that alternating sit-in protests would commence on Monday at the Popular Socialist Party headquarters in Cairo and the Dostour Party office in Alexandria. Journalists are also due to commence a sit-in protest at the Journalists Syndicate headquarters in Cairo on Tuesday, in conjunction with another sit-in at the Karama Current Party headquarters in Cairo, he said.
There will soon be a call for “a major march during parliament’s plenary session to discuss the [maritime border] agreement,” Balshy added, and called on citizens to write the slogan “Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian” on Egyptian flags and hang them from their balconies and windows.
“Selling off Tiran and Sanafir is a disgrace to Egypt, a ticking time-bomb for Saudi Arabia, and a pure win for Israel and the powers that support it,” Sabbahi said when it was his turn.
When the government agreed to hand over the islands to Saudi authorities one year ago, he added, “we said that it had lost its moral legitimacy. Today, when the regime insists on trampling over the will of the populace, and of the young people who protested in the streets and squares, while also defying the constitution, the law, the independence of the judiciary, the history of Egypt, and the sanctity of the blood of martyrs, its constitutional and legal legitimacy has also fallen.”
“Know that the day when Parliament announces that it has ratified this disgrace is the day when the national movement — with all its parties and honest people — will descend upon Tahrir Square to defend this land,” Sabbahi said.
Khaled Ali, who as well as being a former presidential candidate is a lawyer who appealed against the state’s handover of the islands last year, commented: “Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian by virtue of judicial rulings, and Parliament must not jeopardize them.”
“Is not the act of raising the Egyptian flag over Tiran and Sanafir a manifestation of national sovereignty?” asked Ali. “Is not the combat of our soldiers on these islands for their defense a manifestation of sovereignty and ownership?
“He who gives away Tiran and Sanafir islands today might give away the Sinai [peninsula] tomorrow,” he finished. “That would only happen over our dead bodies.”
Balshy added that the government’s insistence on handing over these islands is effectively “a declaration of the end of the legitimacy of this regime.”
Khaled Dawoud, president of the Dostour Party, said the recent campaign of arrests targeting young people active in political parties — amounting to some 40 individuals so far — comes in light of the authorities’ insistence on handing over these two islands to Saudi Arabia via a parliamentary vote.
Dawoud requested that media outlets focus on the police crackdown on political parties and young activists.
Medhat al-Zahed, president of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, said that Egypt should not be mourning the planned handover of these two islands, but instead be organizing itself and preparing for “a new spark of resistance.”
Standing up in defense of one’s homeland is what separates “the honorable” from “the traitors,” Zahed added, concluding by claiming that the Egyptian government resorted to falsifying historical documents and maritime maps in attempt to prove Saudi Arabia’s alleged sovereignty over the islands.
Farid Zahran, president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, accused President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of being personally responsibility for the current territorial crisis.
“President Sisi is the one who bears sole responsibility for sacrificing these national territories and for threatening the Egyptian state by creating a clash between the judiciary and parliament,” he said.
Zahran added that Egypt’s security apparatuses are applying pressure on parliamentarians who are likely to reject the handover agreement, adding that he salutes every MP who is standing up in defense of Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands.
“We will consider these islands to be occupied territories if they hand them over,” he said.
On Sunday, Mada Masr published an article detailing the pressures from security services some MPs have recently been subjected to ahead of the vote.
Former MP and parliamentary committee for human rights member Mohamed Anwar Sadat also spoke at the press conference, commenting that he expected to see “independent and respected MPs rejecting the agreement within parliament.”
Hesham Geneina, ousted chief of the Central Auditing Authority, asked what sort of evidence Egypt’s executive authorities would be presenting in Parliament to argue for Saudi’s sovereignty over the two islands that it had not previously presented before the Administrative Court.
Translated by Jano Charbel