October 21, 2016

Egypt court gives prison terms to 51 over Saudi island deal

Egyptian protesters demonstrate in the capital, Cairo, on April 25, 2016, against the handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. © AFP

An Egyptian court has sentenced 51 activists to two years each in prison for taking part in last month’s mass protests against a controversial government decision to hand over the control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Defense lawyers confirmed that the verdicts were issued on Saturday, adding that the rulings can be appealed.

Thirty-three defendants were present in the court, while the rest had been released on bail.

The individuals were convicted of breaking a 2013 law that effectively bans street protests and disrupting traffic.

Nearly 300 people have been arrested and charged for taking part in demonstrations on April 15 and 25 against Cairo’s decision to hand over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

Egypt’s government has been under fire since it announced in a statement released on April 9 that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia as stipulated in a maritime border agreement signed between Cairo and Riyadh the previous day.

Legal experts and opposition figures have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the agreement, arguing that relinquishing authority over Egyptian territory is unconstitutional.

Thousands have also taken to online social networks, accusing President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money.

Egypt is reportedly receiving USD 20 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia in return for agreeing to the handover of the sovereignty.

The Tiran Island is located at the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba. Its strategic significance lies in the fact that it is an important sea passage to the major ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel.

Israel took over the two Islands in 1967 during the Six Day War. The ownership of the two islands was handed back to Egypt when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the so-called Camp David peace accords.

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