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Egypt parliament committee passes Saudi islands deal

Controversial agreement to relinquish 2 Red Sea territories to Riyadh clears legislative hurdle despite fierce protests

The Red Sea islands of Tiran, in the foreground, and Sanafir, in the background, sit at the the Strait of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images, via JTA)
The Red Sea islands of Tiran, in the foreground, and Sanafir, in the background, sit at the the Strait of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images, via JTA)

A controversial agreement for Cairo to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia passed an Egyptian parliamentary committee Tuesday, setting the stage for a vote in the house.

The Egyptian parliament’s legislative committee approved the treaty after heated debate, with opponents even interrupting one session with chanting. The agreement passed with 35 lawmakers for and eight against, member of parliament Mostafa Bakry told AFP.

The parliament’s defense committee will also examine the accord before it goes to a general vote.

Courts had struck down the agreement, signed in April 2016, but a year later another court upheld it.

The accord had sparked rare protests in Egypt, with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi accused of having bartered the islands of Tiran and Sanafir for Saudi largesse.

Lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, center, celebrates with others after the Supreme Administrative Court said two islands, Sanafir and Tiran, are Egyptian, debunking the government's claim that they were Saudi, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, January 16, 2017. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, center, celebrates with others after the Supreme Administrative Court said two islands, Sanafir and Tiran, are Egyptian, rejecting the government’s claim that they were Saudi, in Cairo, Egypt, January 16, 2017. (AP/Amr Nabil)

Egypt’s government contends that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba belonged to Saudi Arabia, which placed them in Cairo’s custody in the 1950s for protection against possible Israeli attacks. Critics say surrendering them amounts to treason and claim it was linked to financial Saudi aid, a charge denied by authorities.

The agreement was announced during a high-profile visit to Cairo in April 2016 by Saudi King Salman during which the monarch announced a multibillion dollar package of investments and soft loans to Egypt.

The government’s decision to take the April 2016 agreement to parliament came at a time when relations between Cairo and Riyadh had just emerged from months of tension over differences in approach to regional flashpoints like Syria and Yemen.

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