CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s High Administrative Court upheld on Monday a ruling voiding a government agreement to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that sparked protests.
The government had appealed against a lower court ruling in June that found the controversial border demarcation agreement was illegal.
The latest ruling may further complicate ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a main financial backer of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi since the former army chief toppled his Islamist predecessor in 2013.
But relations have cooled over Egypt’s stance on Syria, which is seen as closer to Russia which backs President Bashar Assad than Saudi Arabia which supports rebels fighting to topple his regime.
The courtroom erupted in cheers as the judge delivered the verdict, with lawyers and activists chanting: “These islands are Egyptian.”
The deal to hand over the islands, signed during an April visit by Saudi King Salman in which Riyadh showered Egypt with aid, provoked accusations that Cairo had “sold” the strategic islands.
Cairo said the islands were Saudi to start with, but had been leased to Egypt in the 1950s.
But the court on Monday said it was its “unanimous” decision that the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, were sovereign Egyptian territories.
The transfer of the islands would have had implications on Egypt’s relations with Israel, as the islands are mentioned in the 1978 Camp David Accords that established peace between the Jewish State and Egypt.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview last year that his country would honor the treaty’s terms as regards the islands, which strategically lie at the opening of the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea. Israel’s seaport Eilat is located at the north of the gulf and is a major point of entry for goods into the country, making the guarantee of free passage for Israeli ships through the straits a critical issue for Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.