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Egyptians protest over Red Sea islands deal with Saudis

Protesters condemned the sale of the Red Sea islands as treasonous and a violation of Egypt's territorial integrity
Dozens of Egyptian journalists attend a demonstration at the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo on June 13, 2017 (AFP)

Protests broke out overnight in Egypt as the country's parliament controversially approved the sale of two Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia.

Egypt's parliament approved a treaty ceding sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir, two uninhabited islands near the strategically important Gulf of Aqaba, to Saudi Arabia, House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdelaal said on Wednesday.

The treaty must now be ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a formality.

Earlier on Wednesday it had passed through an influential defence committee, the last potential stumbling block before becoming law.

But the move has enraged Egyptians who see the deal as a concession to the kingdom in exchange for continued political and financial support for the Sisi government.

Dozens of protestors took to the streets on Wednesday evening, with demonstrations primarily centred around Miami square in Alexandria and Talaat Harb and Mesaaha squares in Cairo.

Activists held posters condemning the ceding of the islands, chanting “Egyptian! Egyptian!” in reference to the islands' sovereignty.

Troops were deployed to Talaat Harb, a regular hotspot for anti-government demonstrations, and protesters gathered there were dispersed with teargas.

Sisi's government last year announced a maritime demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia, which has given billions of dollars of aid to Egypt, ceding control of the islands to the Gulf kingdom.

Parliament's legislative committee agreed the treaty on Tuesday after heated debate, opening the way for a full vote on Wednesday.

In the legislative committe, the agreement passed with 35 MPs for and eight against, member of parliament Mostafa Bakry told AFP.

Courts had struck down the agreement, signed in April 2016, but a year later another court upheld it.

The deal is still under challenge in the constitutional court.

The government has said the islands were Saudi to begin with, but were leased to Egypt in the 1950s.

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

Opponents of the agreement insist that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian.

On Tuesday evening dozens of journalists protested against the agreement in central Cairo, before being dispersed by police, journalists' union official Gamal Abdel Rehim told AFP.

Several were briefly arrested before being released but "three reporters are still detained, and contacts are being made with the interior ministry to get them released," he said.

The April 6 movement, which is opposed to the Sisi government, described the decision on Twitter as treasonous.

Additional reporting by Leena El Deeb

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