CAIRO: Egypt’s president on Wednesday defended his country’s declared intention to hand over control over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, saying Cairo did not surrender its territory but “restored” the rights of the Saudis.
Egypt’s government maintains that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba belong to Saudi Arabia, which asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them from Israel. Israel captured the islands in the 1967 Middle East war, but handed them back to Egypt under the provisions of the 1979 peace treaty.
“We did not surrender our rights, but we restored the rights of others,” President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said in comments broadcast live. “Egypt did not relinquish even a grain of sand.”
“All the data and documents say nothing except that this particular right is theirs. Please let us not talk about this subject again. There is a parliament that will debate this agreement. It will either ratify or reject it.”
Cairo’s decision to transfer custody of the islands to Saudi Arabia, which must be ratified by parliament, has kicked off a storm of protest in Egypt. The decision was announced during a five-day visit by King Salman, the Saudi monarch.