President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt ratified an agreement on Saturday that cedes sovereignty over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, brushing off widespread public criticism of the deal in Egypt.
The Red Sea islands accord has become politically sensitive for Mr. Sisi. He counts on Saudi Arabia as a critical ally, but street protests erupted last year among Egyptians angered by the agreement.
This month, Egypt’s Parliament backed the deal, which gives Saudi Arabia control of the islands, Tiran and Sanafir.
“President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ratified the maritime demarcation agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Egyptian cabinet said in a statement.
The announcement was made as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended and on the eve of Eid al-Fitr festivities, a major public holiday when Egyptians are busy preparing to spend time with their families.
The president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Rafiq Sharif, a lawyer for the government, said that the decree was now law and that the two islands were under Saudi sovereignty.
Mr. Sisi’s government announced the maritime agreement last year with Saudi Arabia, an ally that has given billions of dollars of aid to Egypt. The Egyptian and Saudi governments said the islands were Saudi but had been subject to Egyptian protection.
Saudi Arabia has helped Mr. Sisi since he toppled President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013, and the wrangling over the Red Sea deal was a source of tensions between the two countries.
“The transfer has been a long time coming; Riyadh has made it clear they expect the islands and Cairo agreed,” said H. A. Hellyer, a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research group based in the United States. “But considering the amount of opposition to the transfer, the speed at which it happened is instructive. It shows Sisi’s administration doesn’t feel there is much of a risk to be taken.”
The issue touched a patriotic nerve, bringing thousands of protesters to the streets in April chanting “people want the fall of the regime,” a slogan little heard since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
Those rallies were one of the first signals that Mr. Sisi, a general before he became president, no longer enjoyed the broad public support that let him round up thousands of opponents after he seized power.
Full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/world/middleeast/egypt-abdel-fattah-el-sisi-tiran-sanafir.html