04/15/2016, 10.09
EGYPT
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Cairo, tension over islands ceded to Riyadh: An excuse to open relations with Israel

by Pierre Balanian

Egypt’s  opposition plans protests  this afternoon against the decision of the Sissi Government. The two islands, desert and uninhabited, lie in the Red Sea and are named in the Camp David agreements. Analysts believe that the ceding of the territories masks Saudi Arabia’s intention to deal openly with the Israeli government.

 

Cairo (AsiaNews) - A growing number of Egyptian activists is joining the online chorus of political movements and some parties calling for citizens to take to the streets to demonstrate against the sale of two islands to Saudi Arabia.

The groups have invoked a protest for today, Friday 15, under the title "Land Friday". They are calling on people to demonstrate against a decision that has been described by the various political factions in turn as, "recognizing", "ceding" or a "selling off" territory to Saudi Arabia. The two islands  in question, Tiran and Sanafir, are located not far from the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea.

News of the sale of the two islands came like a bolt from the blue.  Egypt agreed to their sale under a deal defining maritime borders between the two countries that took place during the official five day visit of the Saudi king, described as "historic".

The visit allowed the Egyptian president to save the country from economic collapse due to accumulated debts with the signing of contracts worth billions and Pharaonic projects like the construction of a highway in Sinai and the construction of a bridge - right through the island of Sanafir – that will link Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The two islands in question are uninhabited desert and lack of resources.  However they have an incalculable strategic value because they are located on the route of anyone who wants to navigate the Red Sea in both directions.

Granted by Saudi Arabia to Egypt, these two islands were used as a weapon in the Israeli-Arab war, impeding navigation to Israeli shipping. Israel occupied the islands along with the Sinai until the signing of the peace agreement between Cairo and Tel Aviv known as the Camp David Accords. Article 5 of the agreements expressly states that the islands will not host any military presence, let alone be used to prevent the free movement of ships.

Saudi Arabia, a country born in the 1930’s, has repeatedly claimed these islands as part of their national territory. Egypt has, however, always considered them its property, being 4 miles from Sharm el Sheikh and "in Egyptian territorial waters," according to a statement from Abdel Nasser Rais in a speech posted online and shared this week by many Egyptian activists.

Yet it must be remembered that an agreement of delimitation of maritime boundaries of 1907 between the Ottoman Empire and Egypt (which separated from the Empire), established the Ottoman and not Egyptian ownership of the islands.

Saudi Arabian press has widely publicized the return of the islands in the country revealing a false nationalism in the re-appropriation of a territory belonging to the "homeland" (a foreign concept to the inhabitants of the only country in the world that bears the name of a family).

The fact that the two islands are explicitly mentioned in the Camp David Accords transforms Saudi Arabia, now that it has taken over sovereignty, into the fourth interested party and automatically included in the agreement, after Israel, Egypt and the USA.

Somehow, Saudi Arabia recognizes Israel by accepting the Camp David agreements which in the past it had openly condemned accusing Egypt of "treason." The two islands will allow Saudi Arabia to justify any potential future contact with Israel before the Muslims of the world and the Arabs in particular. According to many sources, Israeli has often made such contact but so far in secret and in great confidentiality.

Many believe that Saudi Arabia’s sudden demand for the two islands hides the need to have a “justifiable reason” for future meetings with Israel  conducted in the light of day. The islands, considered by all as insignificant if not for their position, have now taken on an enormous importance that everyone is trying to take advantage of.

Meanwhile, the forces opposed to Egyptian President al-Sissi are exploiting this by instigating people who are already exasperated by the acute economic crisis and the debts accumulated by the state, to take to the streets and demonstrate in front of the foreign embassies against " the sale of Egyptian territories".

The organizers of the event include the Movement of the Revolutionary Socialists (opposition) which has issued a statement in which it says: "We invite everyone to demonstrate against the squandering of the rights of the Egyptian people in favor of the Saudi regime, known for leading the counter-revolution against the Arab spring in the region ". The Movement has also called on "all" political forces "join the protests to the bitter end", at least until the agreement for the transfer of rights belonging to the Egyptian people is not revoked.

Social media has returned to the fore as in the past revoking the atmosphere of  what now is called "the days of Tahrir Square." Today’s protests has garnered the support of 12 prominent opponents including three former  members of government.

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