Court stops islands handover to the Saudis, prompting nationalists to exult

Egypt’s High Administrative Court ruled that Tiran and Sanafir islands are Egyptian. The decision unleashed celebrations in the courtroom, with lawyers and patriots hugging each other. Once allies, Cairo and Riyadh are further apart with Egypt moving closer to Russian, Syrian and Iranian positions in the Middle East.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Egypt’s High Administrative Court ruled on the issue of the two islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir, that President al-Sisi had promised to give to Saudi Arabia during the official visit by the Saudi king to Egypt, last year.

The decision, which was pronounced on 16 January, had more poetic and nationalist verses than legal terminology. This unleashed a veritable celebration in the courtroom with lawyers hugging each other and many patriotic spectators in the courtroom chanting " Biladi, Biladi "(my homeland).

Tears of joy and scenes of jubilation as during celebrations of national pride seem excessive for two strips of uninhabited desert land, lost in the sea. 

However, one of the lawyers who defended Egyptian "sovereignty" over Tiran and Sanafir islands even spoke of "Egypt's victory" before he walked out of the courtroom into a huge crowd waiting to hear the outcome.

Along with those present, he shouted "Egypt is Egyptian" and "Allah Akbar", echoed by others in what became a spontaneous grassroots demonstration.

Before the ruling, Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi – strongly condemned when he decided to give the two islands in question to Saudi Arabia – justified his backtracking saying that his mother had asked him "not to give away what was not his property."

As soon as the sentence was announced, it was widely cheered, a sign that people are opposed to giving up any piece of land, even to traditionally friendly (and Arab) countries like the Saudi kingdom, a nation that for decades has supported economically and politically Sunni Egypt.

The president’s rivals skillfully used grassroots feelings in the past few months. His adversaries exploited the public's dissatisfaction with the islands issue to launch accusations of "treason" and "collaboration", not directly to the president, but at the establishment.

At a sensitive time in which many surprises are expected in Saudi Arabia in the near future, the Egyptian press has focused on catastrophic scenarios that even suggest an earthquake within the royal family and the country’s structures.

Recently, videos have also appeared on television about Israeli plans to occupy the islands of Tiran and Sanafir as soon as they were given to Riyadh.

Thanks to the ruling, President al-Sisi can pull the carpet from under his rivals by depriving them of an excuse for any subtle attack. However, it has also created dissatisfaction in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, as relations with the kingdom deteriorate, Cairo is moving closer to Russian, Syrian and Iranian positions in the Middle East. (PB)