CAIRO, April 12, (AP): Egypt’s declared intention to hand over control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia has kicked off a storm of vociferous opposition, laced with stinging satire, and dealt a blow to the pride of many Egyptians at a time when they feel their country is vulnerable and under attack from all sides.
The announcement that a team of Egyptian experts has concluded that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba were inside Saudi territorial waters has taken Egyptians by surprise, raising criticism by some that the move amounted to a territorial sell-off to the oil-rich Saudis at a time when Egypt’s battered economy needs all the help it can get. Others charged that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was running the country without transparency or accountability.
The agreement must be ratified by parliament, a 596-seat chamber packed with the president’s supporters whose adulation for Saudi Arabia went on display Sunday when King Salman addressed the legislature. He was received with a standing ovation and his six-minute address was repeatedly interrupted by applause. Lawmakers also recited poetry praising the Saudi monarch. “The government surprised 90 million Egyptians with a decision that we grew up accustomed to its opposite.
That’s what made it worrisome and horrifying,” author and analyst Ibrahim Eissa said on his TV show about the declaration that the islands were Saudi. Tiran is the larger of the two islands and is closer to Egypt’s southern Sinai coast. It is associated in the mind of many Egyptians with their country’s four wars against Israel between 1948 and 1973, a time of nationalistic fervor and patriotism. More recently, Tiran has become a popular destination for tourists. Hardly anyone in Egypt had thought of Tiran, the better known of the two islands, as anything but Egyptian territory for generations. But the government now says that Saudi Arabia in 1950 merely placed the islands in Egypt’s custody to defend them against possible attack by Israel.
Now, according to that narrative, Riyadh is able to defend the island and is simply taking its own territory back. News of the expected loss of the islands broke at a particularly vulnerable time, as the country is reeling from a string of public blunders and a host of seemingly intractable problems. Egypt’s economy is ailing after five years of turmoil, an insurgency by Islamic militants has proved resilient and the vital tourism industry has been battered. The crash last October over the Sinai Peninsula of a Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board, in a suspected terror attack has cut off the flow of Russian tourists who normally frequent the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh