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Egyptians blast 'traitor' Sisi as court blocks Red Sea islands deal

Court ruling against giveaway of islands to Saudi divides pro-government media and prompts social media backlash against president
Egyptian lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali (C) celebrates after the Supreme Administrative Court upheld on 16 January, 2017 a ruling voiding a government agreement to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that had sparked protests in Egypt (AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is facing faced calls to be prosecuted for treason following a court’s ruling against his government over the proposed transfer of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

The hashtag "Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian" rose to the top of Egypt’s trending hashtags following the verdict – but was swiftly replaced by "One million signatures to prosecute Sisi" and "Sisi is a traitor by verdict of the court".

A top Egyptian court on Monday rejected the plan to transfer the two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that provoked outrage among Egyptians.

The government had appealed against a lower court ruling in June that found the controversial border demarcation agreement was illegal.

But the courtroom erupted in cheers on Monday as the judge delivered the final verdict on the issue, with lawyers and activists chanting: "These islands are Egyptian."

The islands saga has deeply wounded national pride and brought people out onto the streets in a public show of dissent against Sisi's government. 

Fractures and threats

The verdict fractured Egypt’s normally pliant and pro-Sisi media scene – with some going as far as celebrating a decision that has dented the president’s authority.

The staunchly pro-government Wael el-Ebrashy opened his evening programme with the famous patriotic song “Egypt today is in Eid".

In a notable move, he indirectly criticised the Sisi government: “The executive branch in Egypt took steps towards an agreement to delineate the border between Egypt and Saudi Arabia… Why are some people depressed like this? Why are some dealing with what’s happened as if it is a defeat? Is it possible guys that we’ve reached this stage? Even though the majority of the Egyptians [support the verdict], including I believe those who could have said I’ll take the position of the executive branch.”
Wael el-Ebrashy’s segment on the court ruling, beginning with a famous Egyptian patriotic song (Arabic)

But other TV personalities warned that celebrations over the ruling may be short-lived if it led to a further deterioration in already tense Saudi-Egyptian relations.

Ahmed Moussa, one of Sisi’s more flamboyant supporters, said on his TV programme: “Saudi has people in it agitating after the verdict, and you could find two-and-a-half, three million Egyptians who were working in Saudi here in Egypt.”

“And the entire Gulf could do like Saudi, and you could find seven million Egyptians returning,” he continued. “How will you deal with them?

“And if we go to an international court, today’s verdict is local, it doesn’t have any weight – so prepare your papers and proof,” he said.
Ahmed Moussa’s segment on the court ruling (Arabic)

'Fake news'

The state-owned al-Akhbar newspaper also ran an article on popular Saudi cleric Mohamad al-Arifi apparently threatening jihad against Egypt if the Islands weren’t turned over - but the piece was denounced as "fake news" by one media pundit.

Alleged Israeli machinations were also drawn into the debate with pro-government TV host Ahmed el-Muslimani accusing Israel of drawing Egypt and Saudi into a war against it: "Suppose Israel occupied the islands after they are handed over to Saudi Arabia, what will happen?"

Ahmed el-Muslimani’s segment on the court ruling (Arabic)

Leftists use the law

The case against the government was led by leftist lawyer Khaled Ali, with help from the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) that he used to head.

Translation: “From the findings of the Supreme Administrative (Court)’s historic decision issued today #Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian”

Ali, a former presidential candidate in 2012, made his name in the Mubarak era as an advocate for labour rights.

Translation: “Khaled Ali and Malik Adly raised high above #Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian”

He was a staunch of opponent Mohamed Morsi, however, once going as far as to compare him with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He played a key role in the National Salvation Front – a coalition of leftist, nationalist, liberal, and Mubarak-era figures opposed to Morsi – and helped agitate for the protests on 20 June, 2013 that paved the way for Sisi’s military coup.

Translation: “From now on when someone asks ‘where are you from?’ we’ll say to him I’m from Khaled Ali’s Egypt not (pro-Sisi MP) Mostafa Bakry’s Egypt”

The ECESR, which Ali used to head, also published a detailed, 121-page document on the Red Sea islands dispute.

The pro-opposition al-Sharq TV channel also produced a 30-minute documentary claiming the Red Sea islands as Egyptian.

The TV channel was reportedly bought by Ayman Nour, a leading liberal Egyptian opposition figure who was imprisoned for four years by former president Hosni Mubarak for running against him in 2005. He is an opponent of Sisi, and supported Morsi’s democratic mandate despite his opposing ideological views.

Translation: “The first documentary film on Tiran and Sanafir being Egyptian”

High treason

Former MP and current anti-Sisi activist Hatem Azzam tweeted: “The findings of the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling proving Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian can be used as a basis for prosecuting Sisi and his government for high treason #Sisi_is_a_traitor_by_verdict_of_the_court”

The April 6th Youth Movement echoed the call, saying: “The ruling power should offer its resignation and yield to the court on the charge of high treason and conspiring to sell part of the nation #Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian #Scafgate”

One Egyptian wrote on Twitter: “#Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian The verdict does not prove that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian, rather it proved that Sisi and his media and the heads of the general intelligence service and army are traitors and foreign agents.”

Another said: “#Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian by order of the people. If we have justice we will release the youth who were imprisoned because of Tiran and Sanafir, and kiss their hands and compensate them for their days in prison.”

Others on social media, where views were on the whole in favour of the court ruling, echoed those sentiments.

Translation: “The time has come, people of Egypt, to prosecute Sisi and the hypocrites of the media with the charge of high treason after the ruling that #Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian #Our_divisions_help_the_military(_rule)”

Translation: “What happened today is greater than a court ruling; this is the greatest challenge to the legitimacy of Sisi’s regime #Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian”

Translation: “Today we can say with the loudest voice and with the voice of the Egyptian judiciary #Sisi_is_a_traitor and #Tiran_and_Sanafir_are_Egyptian”

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