Egypt’s High Administrative Court accepted a recusal request of the panel reviewing a government appeal against a ruling asserting Egyptian sovereignty over the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
According to the court’s reasoning, the panel “lacked the required impartiality” to consider the appeal before it.
The seventh chamber at the Administrative Court said in its ruling that “accepting the recusal request against the judicial panel assigned to review the government’s appeal against the nullification of Tiran and Sanafir demarcation agreement is neutral away from favoring any of the conflicting adversaries.”
The ruling reads, “The judges, who were recused, lack neutrality and objectivity in reviewing the case, and some judges (without mentioning their names) in the panel were mandated by governmental agencies which are direct adversaries in the appeal,” according to Anadolu Agency.
Lawyer Khaled Ali, who filed the recusal request, cited interference of the executive authority with the judiciary. His request stated that Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdy Al-Agaty called on the court overseeing the appeal to “accept the appeal within a week,” according to Al-Ahram, a state-owned newspaper.
Ali said that Al-Agaty is a former judge who previously worked in the same court and thus could influence its ruling.
During King Salman’s latest visit in April, Egypt’s government agreed to give away the two strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council approved the agreement on the demarcation of maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on April 25, 2016.
The controversial agreement that gave away the two strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia has led to massive criticism and outrage among the Egyptians. Critics, journalists, and activists accused Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of “selling Egypt” to Saudi Arabia in return for financial aid.
In response, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in protests on April 15 (Land Day) and April 25 (Sinai Liberation Day) against the agreement, calling for the “Downfall of the Regime.” The demonstrations were the first huge movement against the al-Sisi regime that included different political affiliations and groups. The Egyptian security forces led arrest campaigns of activists and journalists who opposed the transfer of the islands.
Egypt’s courts have fined tens of the protesters while others were handed down prison sentences that ranged from two to five years. In addition, a court sentenced seven defendants to eight years in prison each and fined them.
However, Egypt Administrative Court voided the controversial demarcation agreement that stipulates the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia. A number of lawsuits were filed in an attempt to nullify the agreement.
At an earlier session, the court called the state to present a copy of the agreement while lawyers presented various evidence, documents, and maps that support their claim that the islands are Egyptian. Khaled Ali- the human rights defender and former presidential candidate- presented to the court an Atlas that he said was prepared by the Egyptian military in 2007 to confirm that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian and fall under Egyptian sovereignty.
In response, the Egyptian government appealed against the administrative court’s nullification of the al-Sisi plan to cede control of the two Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia.
It has repeatedly said that the islands have always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt was merely administering them on behalf of the Saudis since the 1950s.
In the same context, al-Sisi defended the agreement in a televised speech in April, saying that “Egypt does not sell its land to anyone and it does not take anyone’s land.”
Moreover, the Egyptian cabinet assured in a previous statement that the strategic islands are Saudi, adding that Saudi Arabia requested Egypt to protect them in 1950, and they have been under Egypt’s control since then.
The two Red Sea islands, which are strategically significant as they both control maritime activity in the Gulf, are located at the Gulf of Aqaba. The Tiran Island is located in the Gulf of al-Aqaba, about 5 or 6 km from the Sinai Peninsula, and it has a total area of about 80 square km. Sanafir Island lies to the east of Tiran with a total area of 33 square km.