Following the parliament approval of the Border Demarcation Agreement with Saudi Arabia which included handing over Tiran and Sanafir Islands to Saudi Arabia, I thought I could provide further clarification, for those who need it.
Some Egyptian enthusiasts and patriots, especially young people, are in a state of confusion and doubt about the issue of the Tiran and Sanafir Islands. This is because they were influenced by some activists and rumormongers who publish false information claiming the islands are Egyptian. Here we present 30 reasons the islands are Saudi Arabian:
1. The issue of these islands and that of Halayeb and Shalateen are completely different. The islands are pure Saudi property, but were under Egyptian administration. Halayeb and Shalateen are pure Egyptian property, but were administered by Sudan at a certain point in time. Therefore, not acknowledging Saudi Arabia’s right to the islands could give Sudan a pretext to pursue Halayeb and Shalateen. This is extremely dangerous and needs to be grasped by those who are impartial and fair.
2. No principle in international law states the right to land ownership by mere occupation, especially that international law differentiates between the concepts of “sovereignty” and “protection.” In international law, “sovereignty” is the equivalent of “ownership” in private law. Therefore, the concept of “land occupation” does not exist in international law, which does not acknowledge transfer of ownership based on prescription, unlike private laws.
3. Egypt has no right to keep the islands based on their having been under Egyptian protection for 65 years, especially that Saudi Arabia did not give the islands away to Egypt, but only gave Egypt protection over the islands due to certain political circumstances.
4. Throughout all these years, Saudi Arabia kept asserting its ownership of the islands and its willingness to reclaim them. On the other hand, Egypt never claimed ownership of the islands throughout all these years.
5. In the early 1980s, academics began conducting research in the legal field of naval law. They started speaking of something that was not especially present before, which is “maritime border demarcation.” Accordingly, Egyptian-Saudi maritime border demarcation took place and concluded that the islands lie in Saudi territorial waters. There are studies proving this.
6. Tiran and Sanafir are located along the extension of the continental shelf of the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, they are under Saudi sovereignty. The “continental shelf” is one of the conditions and rules created by the United Nations in border demarcation between countries, especially maritime borders. Tiran and Sanafir are part of the Saudi land that extends under the sea.
7. The Red Sea Rift was formed through divergence, as Egypt and the Peninsula were one land. The giant rift caused the Red Sea to be formed. There is a similarity between Egyptian and Saudi phenomena on the sides of the Red Sea because they used to be one land in the past.
8. When British occupation drew the borders, these islands fell within the borders of Saudi Arabia, given that they are extensions of Saudi land. History indicates they are from the land of Hijaz and Tabuk, so they are Saudi Arabian territories. Egypt holds documents retrieved from Britain proving they are Saudi.
9. Prominent experts have testified that the islands are Saudi. Some even oppose the current political regime in many aspects. Therefore, this eliminates any suspicion of collusion or selling the land.
10. Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s speeches were carefully deliberated and directed to the Israeli enemy. They used to carry messages—what he said about the islands was a message to the enemy that the islands are Egyptian and that Israel may not approach these borders. This was considered protection of the islands and Arab interests in the region. There was a Zionist plan to dig a canal comparable to the Suez Canal in terms of importance, deepening the Gulf of Aqaba and widening the waterway. Therefore, Abdel-Nasser’s statements sought to destroy this scheme.
11. The reason Egypt decided to resolve this issue now is that this is part of the Egyptian political regime’s vision of resolving all deferred issues, like rationing government subsidies and others.
12. Muhammad Ali’s campaigns in Hijaz and the annexation of a great part of the Arabia to Egypt stirred much controversy around this issue.
13. Library of Congress maps do not show that the islands are Egyptian territories. The library has the largest collection of old maps, and one of them is the official map issued in 1900, which draws Egyptian borders in red and Ottoman borders in yellow. When the map was enlarged, Tiran and Sanafir Islands can be seen shaded in yellow.
14. Neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia set any demarcation points to mark their land borders before 1990. Egypt set its demarcation line at the United Nations, and it is a straight line from Rafah that did not include the islands. Saudi Arabia defined its demarcation line at the UN in 2010: a straight line that included Tiran and Sanafir. This is in execution of Area C Provisions of the Camp David Accords.
15. There is no need to resort to international arbitration. Both countries agree that the islands are Saudi and this is to protect both countries from being put in a difficult situation internally.
16. Court rulings shall be respected. However, there are international treaties governing the islands, like the UN Law of the Sea, which Egypt ratified in 1982. It has rules which set the lines and points of demarcation and state sovereignty over the seas that it overlooks.
17. It cannot be said that Egypt sold the islands once the Parliament passed the agreement. Egypt did not receive any gains.
18. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hafiz Afifi refused to raise the Egyptian flag over the islands in 1928.
19. Egypt never waged any wars over the islands. Not a single drop of blood was lost over Tiran and Sanafir.
20. The history of the islands is on record and documented by specialists and experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
21. President Sisi personally formed a Committee of Border Demarcation to further investigate the issue and be completely sure.
22. The government and the Parliament were exercising their jurisdiction in signing agreements binding to the State, according to Article 151 of the Constitution. Therefore, passing the agreement or not passing it does not fall within the jurisdiction of any other institution, like the judiciary.
23. A public referendum could not have been held when it comes to the issue of border demarcation between countries. A referendum could be held, however, about deploying a military base in a certain country, becoming part of a military alliance, gaining total independence from a country or becoming integrated into another.
24. Egypt never declared sovereignty over the islands. The proof of this is the Egyptian Permanent Representative’s speech at the UN on May 27, 1967. He asserted that Egypt never attempted to claim sovereignty over these islands has been transferred to it at any point in time. Egypt only wanted to take on the mission of defending them.
25. The circumstances, which led Saudi Arabia to mandate Egypt to administer the islands in 1950 and protect them from any aggressive intentions by the emerging State of Israel have changed relatively changed. Saudi Arabia did not have sufficient military power to combat the possible Israeli aggression.
26. Saudi Arabia’s attempts to reclaim the islands are not recent. There are the minutes of a meeting held on March 4, 1990 headed by Dr. Atef Sedqi, Prime Minister, where Dr. Essmat Abdel-Maged, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke of the status of Tiran and Sanafir. He stated that Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, sent two messages throughout the past years asking Egypt to acknowledge Saudi sovereignty over these islands.
27. No documents exist proving Egyptian sovereignty over the islands since Egyptian border demarcation with the Ottoman Empire on October 1, 1906, signed by the Turkish Sultan and the Egyptian Khedive. This document only mentioned the modification of land borders and separation of powers between the Hijaz government, Jerusalem government and the Sinai Peninsula.
28. The diplomatic relationship between countries is generally not negatively impacted by political differences. Temporary Saudi suspension of oil product supply to Egypt was not a result of the conflict between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the sovereignty of the islands. The price to pay was not the islands. The evidence proving this is how the supply of oil products was resumed before resolving the issue of the islands was resolved. The reason because Saudi Arabia was only going through some internal trouble in the oil sector. In addition, the Saudi-Egypt Causeway project did not only emerge now and is not related to the islands. The initial proposal of the project first came out in 1988.
29. Transferring sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir back to Saudi Arabia will result in the internationalization of the Straits of Tiran. This will free Egypt of its commitment with Israel regarding freedom of navigation based on the Peace Accords. It will also destroy the Israeli dream of building the Ben Gurion Canal.
30. Finally, the Egyptian Armed Forces’ approval of the opinion of the government regarding this matter should be extremely reassuring for everyone, since everyone trusts the Armed Forces, even the opposition.
Egypt never surrendered a centimeter of its lands and will never do so. Transferring sovereignty over the islands to Saudi Arabia does not mean Egypt relinquished them. Egypt only gave the land back to its rightful owners. Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt to protect Tiran and Sanafir and Egypt fulfilled the mission perfectly. Now Egypt is returning the land to its owners.
Ragaie Attia is a constitutional law expert