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Egypt court rules against island transfer to Saudi Arabia

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Tuesday ruled that previous judicial decisions in favour of transferring two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia were invalid, a judicial official and a lawyer said.

Egyptian courts have issued contradictory rulings since Cairo signed a controversial deal with Saudi Arabia in April 2016 to transfer the islands to Riyadh.

The government says the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, belong to Saudi Arabia but had been leased to Egypt in the 1950s. Parliament on June 14 approved their controversial transfer.

On Tuesday an administrative court ruled that all judicial decisions taken to date by the urgent matters court would be considered invalid.

In April, the urgent matters court in Cairo invalidated a verdict by Egypt’s highest administrative court that went against the islands’ transfer.

“The ruling (on Tuesday) signifies that the land is Egyptian,” said Khaled Ali, a lawyer who argued in the administrative court that the islands belonged to Egypt.

The verdict would affirm that any attempt to transfer the islands would be considered unconstitutional “even if the president ratified the agreement”, Ali said.

The deal sparked rare street protests after it was signed last year, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi accused of having sold the islands to Saudi Arabia.

Opponents of the deal say the government is willing to hand over the islands in exchange for funds from the oil-rich kingdom.

“Now the ball is in the president’s court,” Ali said.

The president has yet to ratify the transfer deal.

Lying at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, the islands can be used to control access to the Israeli port of Eilat.

They were captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war before being returned to Egypt under the 1979 Camp David Accords.

Sisi went ahead with the deal even though it threatened to dent his popularity, and at a time when the government, which is grappling with austerity reforms that have fuelled inflation, is wary of protests.

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