A State Council panel recommended the formation of a committee of experts to determine whether the islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within Egyptian territory.
The State Council Commissioner Authority (SCCA) issued a report on Tuesday challenging the government’s decision to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia.
The court is yet to establish the committee if it accepts the SCCA’s recommendations, scheduling another hearing for June 14.
A number of lawyers, including Khaled Ali and Malek Adly, who is currently in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, filed the case in April, requesting the reversal of a new maritime border agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia that was signed during the visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz to Cairo.
Also among the lawyers who filed the case is Tarek Awady, who told Mada Masr he sees the SCCA’s report as a win, as it proves the documents lawyers submitted were critical enough for the court to consider the recommendation.
Although the court is yet to determine whether or not the case falls under its jurisdiction, Awady says it is unlikely it will be rejected at this stage.
The SCCA’s recommendation is contrary to what many expected, Ali explained in a Facebook post, as he says they anticipated the court would determine the agreement to be an act of sovereignty and therefore would perceive the case to be outside its jurisdiction.
The State Council cited Article 32 of the Constitution: “The state’s natural resources belong to the people. The state shall commit to protecting these resources, using them well, not depleting them and respecting the right of future generations to their use.”
The report asserted that currently it is impossible to draw a conclusion as to the legality of the agreement, as coordinates and other technical details are still unclear.
The new committee, which is to be formed of experts in geography, history and engineering, will be tasked with interpreting the documents submitted and presenting a summary of the history and exact coordinates to the court.
Lawyers presented the court with a large number of documents proving Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands before 1950, which, according to Ali, is the date supporters of the agreement claim Saudi Arabia temporarily gave Egypt sovereignty over them for protection. The documents include international agreements, maps that were approved by the Egyptian government and testimonies of historians at various times.
Most of the documents were submitted by citizens, in response to a call for evidence by lawyers, and not by the state.
“The court now has critical documents that incorporate diverse technical, legal and constitutional aspects. In short, we are now facing a real and major legal battle that has political, constitutional and international repercussions,” Ali explained.
Once it agrees to form a committee, the court will likely reach out to Egyptian Universities for recommendations on experts, Awady says, adding that, although the recommendations of this committee of experts won’t be legally binding, it is likely to be taken seriously.
The issue of the islands mobilized the largest protests to take place under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The President addressed the issue in a televised speech on April 13, asserting that all documents prove the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and asking Egyptians not to talk about the issue anymore, so as not to destabilize the country.