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Egypt court overrules decision to transfer Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

Egypt stirred controversy in April when it announced it would hand ownership of Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh
Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali outside the State Council's building, Egypt's highest administrative court, in Cairo on 26 June 2016.

A Cairo administrative court rejected on Tuesday the Egyptian government’s motion to appeal a previous ruling that annulled the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The court also fined President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail 800 Egyptian pounds ($45) each for filing the appeal, Egyptian news website al-Shorouk reported. 

The Egyptian government stirred nationwide controversy in April when it announced that Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to revise maritime borders that handed ownership of the disputed islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Riyadh.

According to a Cabinet statement at the time, the signing of the agreement came after six years of negotiations between the two countries, causing many to voice their concern that negotiations of such importance were carried out without public knowledge.

The agreement sparked widespread protests with critics accusing the government of having “sold” the islands in exchange for Saudi Arabian aid. The agreement was announced shortly after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pledged $21.5 billion in loans and investments to Egypt.

In June, Egypt’s Administrative Court annulled the border demarcation agreement and prohibited change in the islands’ status “in any form or procedure for the benefit of any other country.”

But the Egyptian government appealed the annulment decision hours later.

Former presidential candidate and lawyer Khaled Ali had filed a complaint against the handover of the islands after gathering thousands of names on petitions.

Authorities arrested hundreds of protesters, sentencing 152 of them from two to five years of imprisonment after a wave of protests in April decrying the land transfer.

The defendants were found guilty on a number of charges including “incitement to protest without a permit,” a breach of Egypt’s strict law that forbids any demonstrations without prior permission from the police.

An Egyptian court later acquitted 22 protesters who had been accused of illegally protesting and assembling against the decision to transfer the islands.