In a parliamentary session today, about 400 MPs voted in favor of the maritime border agreement brokered between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in April 2016. As per the agreement, sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir islands will be transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. Today’s vote follows more than a year of contestations that have involved courtrooms, protests and, most recently, parliamentary debates.
Forty MPs represent the few who voted against the agreement, and mostly belong to alliances less close to the executive authorities: the 25/30 Coalition, the Egyptian Will and the Right of the People. Those MPs who stood against the deal approached Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel Aal to request that their vote be registered, threatening to resign from Parliament if their request was denied.
Today’s vote took place by a show of hands, rather than a roll call, which would have had each parliamentarian’s vote recorded in the official record. The MPs who voted against the deal said that Parliament instituted a vote by a show of hands to conceal the identities of the yes voters, given the sensitivity of the issue and the unpopularity of the agreement outside of the legislature.
Below are some of the prominent statements made during the vote in the general session on the agreement.
Abdel Aal: “My hope is to present to the whole world a session of democratic dialogue that reflects the 150 year history of this Parliament. All opinions will be taken into consideration in the most democratic way.”
Omar Arafa, minister of Parliamentary affairs: “The maritime border agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia achieves the supreme interests of the country.”
MP Kamal Amer, head of Parliament’s Defense, National Security and Mobilization Committee: “Although the agreement confirmed that Tiran and Sanafir lie with Saudi Arabia, we are confident that they will be at the service of Egyptian and Arab national interests.”
In response, members of the 25/30 Coalition, Egyptian Will and the Right of the People chanted: “History, geography and the judiciary say Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian.”
While Ashraf al-Assal, head of maritime Egyptian Maritime Survey Authority had previously declared that, “The islands are closer to Saudi Arabia than to Egypt,” paradoxically, he added that “Sovereignty is not governed by distances, but by history.”
In turn, Abdel Aal said, “The Armed Forces is the source of Egyptian patriotism, full of individuals of the highest caliber. It is one that can stand against any maritime problem. Brigadier General Assal hasn’t only lived on the Red Sea, but he has also dwelled in its depths in light of his work.”
MP Mohamed al-Sweidy, head of the pro-state Alliance to Support Egypt Coalition: “[Quranic Verse: God commands you to give what you have been entrusted with to its proprietors.] We know that we will lose popularity by voting for the agreement, but integrity requires taking such a decision.”
In a final back and forth before the vote, MP Mostafa Kamal Eddin Hussein, coordinator of the Right of the People Coalition, said, “I am one of the sons of the Armed Forces. I took part in their wars. My father is one of the leaders of the June 23 movement that liberated Egypt. I do not accept the agreement.”
MP Hamdy Bekheit, a member of the Defense, National Security and Mobilization Committee responded, “You don’t talk about the Armed Forces.”
MP Hussein then complained to Abdel Aal that he had been accused of betrayal.
Abdel Aal responded: “He didn’t accuse you of betrayal, and there are no traitors here.”
MP Hussein: “The agreement is null. The government defending the notion that the islands are Saudi Arabian is naive. Why do you want to mark Parliament with the accusation that it sold this land?”
Abdel Aal: “Parliament has taken the opinion of all experts, some of whom are known not to be aligned with the government.”
MP Hussein: “Not true. You only brought supporters [of the agreement or of the government.]”
Abdel Aal: “I appreciate your enthusiasm.”