Hundreds of students in Egypt’s public universities protested over the last two days against the transfer of sovereign control of the Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
The campus demonstrations echoed nationwide protests on Friday against the decision, which was declared during the visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz to Egypt last week.
Students in Cairo, Tanta, Fayoum and Alexandria Universities organized protests and marches on campuses Saturday and Sunday as part of a campaign dubbed “Students Won’t Sell” condemning the island transfer agreement.
The campaign released a statement asserting that the deal is, “a new chapter of the current leadership’s disrespect of public awareness and the Constitution,” adding, “The transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands has harmed our national pride, as the regime preached historical rights that were protected by the blood of our fathers and grandfathers, which was shed on these islands to protect our rights and the rights of future generations.”
In an attempt to end the ongoing debate about the transfer of the islands following a maritime border deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Sisi asserted in a speech last week that the agreement is based on a presidential decree issued in 1990 that was sent to the United Nations.
A campaign spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, explained to Mada Masr that students worked in a decentralized way to organize the campus protests. “The campaign initiated the first call for action and coordinated between various student groups to help them organize their own marches and send us updates to publish,” the spokesperson said.
This could be the largest non-partisan student protest action in Egyptian public universities since a wave of violence broke out in 2013 between security forces and students affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group following the ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The violent wave killed more than 20 students, with hundreds of others detained and suspended, stifling political action on campuses for two years.
Similarly, calls by the April 6 Youth Movement for public demonstrations against the island deal asked people to put aside factional differences and protest together. “Let today be a new beginning. More important than slogans, parties, political shouting, is that we go down today and say I am here. I am still here and I have an opinion, a voice and worth. The January revolution still lives and its legacy is still within us, despite everything that has happened,” a statement by the group urged ahead of Friday’s protests.
Although protesters across the country rallied around the transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia, some used the first demonstrations on this scale in many months as an opportunity to air other grievances. A banner was raised during demonstratons in downtown Cairo bearing the image of Coptic martyr Mina Daniel, who was killed by security forces in 2011, as were banners of Giulio Regeni, the Italian PhD researcher who was recently killed in Egypt. Others chanted in support of political prisoners and jailed actvists.
Similarly on campus, the campaign organizer explained, “The general fear of protesting on campus is not like it was before, which was evident in the quick reaction of students to our calls.”
Following nationwide demonstrations on Friday, several groups vowed to resume action on April 25 for Sinai Liberation Day. The Revolutionary Socialists said a number of their members and supporters would head to the two Red Sea islands on this day in a show of defiance over the transfer decision.
The student campaign added that it would support efforts off-campus on April 25. “We hope this protest momentum will continue, especially with the current media blackout on all protests.”