Anger over Egypt's move to return control of Red Sea islands to Saudia Arabia

  Tiran bridge row shutterstock 284167016 island dive boat egypt saudi arabia red sea

Dive boat off Tiran Island

The row over building a bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia intensified with the announcement that the Egyptians have agreed to hand back control of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh as part of the multi-billion dollar deal.

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has faced fierce criticism both home and abroad after agreeing to transfer the two Red Sea islands back to Saudi Arabia after they have been controlled by Cairo since 1950.

On Twitter thousands accused Sisi of selling the islands. More than 28,000 tweets were post on the issue and #Tiran became the top trend in Egypt. Five people were arrested in demonstrations and Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reported 'a huge wave of controversy and confusion'.

Giving control of the islands to the Saudis is seen as being directly connected to  Riyadh paying to build the bridge across the Gulf of Aqaba. The construction of the $4 billion bridge threatens the dive sites of Jackson, Woodhouse, Gordon and Thomas reefs - some of the best dive sites in the area. And following the announcement that Tiran would be handed back, many Egyptian dive businesses were quoted in local newspapers protesting about that decision.

The Egyptian Streets newspaper reported that Salah El-Din Atef, a CEO of one of Sharm El Sheikh’s tourism companies, as saying that Tiran and Sanafir were crucial for the local dive industry. He is reported as saying: 'If Egypt sacrifices them to Saudi Arabia, none of the tourism companies will have access to them, because they will no longer be in domestic waters and will belong to another state.'

3dd map tiran bridge row egypt saudi arabia red sea

Generations of Egyptian schoolchildren have been taught that the islands were Egyptian, and legal experts question the legitimacy of the agreement. But authorities in Cairo insisted that they had always been Saudi territory, despite being under Egyptian control since 1950.

Twitter users circulated footage of the former Egyptian president Gamal Nasser warning of any violations of the Tiran waters, which he said were Egyptian. One cartoon showed Sisi swapping the islands for a sack of rice.

'Roll up, roll up, the island is for a billion, the pyramid for two and a couple of statues thrown in for free,' the satirist Bassem Youssef tweeted. 

The Muslim Brotherhood said the islands had been handed over 'for a fistful of dollars, or in exchange for support for government policies sanctioning murder, detentions, violations, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings'.

The news also caused anger in Iran which is deeply hostile to Saudi Arabia with newspapers in Tehran accusing Sisi of selling the island.

The Egyptian authorities have since said the decision has to be discussed by the Egyptian parliament and suggested any handover would not be until at least 50 years from now.




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