Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Egypt/Saudi Arabia: Egyptian Parliament Ratifies Maritime Border Demarcation Agreement

(June 26, 2017) On June 14, 2017, in a general session, the Egyptian Council of Representatives (the parliament) ratified the maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Based on this bilateral agreement, Egypt will cede its territorial rights to two Red Sea islands (Tiran and Sanfair) to Saudi Arabia. (Egypt Parliament to Vote on Islands Deal After Defence Committee Approval, NEW ARAB (June 14, 2017).)

The Council’s final vote comes after the approval of the agreement by the  legislative and constitutional affairs committee and the national security and defense committee. (Gamal Essam El-Din, Egypt Parliament to Hold Final Vote on Red Sea Island Deal Wednesday, AL-AHRAM (June 14, 2017).) Thirty-five out of the 43 members of the legislative and constitutional affairs committee voted in a favor of the bilateral agreement. After approving the agreement, the Committee referred it to the Council for a vote in a general session. (Gamal Essam El-Din, Egyptian Parliamentary Committee Approves Saudi Red Sea Islands Deal, Refers It for Final Vote, AL-AHRAM (June 13, 2017).)

Despite the Supreme Administrative Court having issued a final decision repealing the maritime border agreement in January of this year, the Council of Representatives ignored the Court and went ahead and discussed the agreement’s provisions. (Farah Bahgat, Tension Between Judicial and Legislative Branches Following Abdul Aal’s Statements, DAILY NEWS (June 14, 2017); George Sadek, Egypt/Saudi Arabia: Supreme Administrative Court Rejects Government Appeal in Red Sea Islands Agreement Case, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 25, 2017).)  The Chairman of the Council, Ali Abdul Aal, commented on the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision by saying that the parliament would not consider any judicial verdicts regarding the Red Sea islands agreement. (Bahgat, supra.)

Reactions to the Agreement

The agreement has stirred a lot of controversy on legal and constitutional grounds. Individuals opposing the agreement have argued that the parliament has no jurisdiction to discuss the provisions of the agreement because it should be put to a referendum based on paragraph 2 of article 151 of the Egyptian Constitution of 2014. (Sarah El-Sheikh, Parliament Approves ‘Red Sea Islands’ Agreement, DAILY NEWS (June 14, 2017).) That provision states: “[w]ith regards to any treaty of peace and alliance, and treaties related to the rights of sovereignty, voters must be called for a referendum, and they are not to be ratified before the announcement of their approval in the referendum.” (The Egyptian Constitution of 2014, art. 151(2), Constitute Project website.) Paragraph 3 of the same article, moreover, prohibits the parliament from discussing a treaty that will lead to the concession of the state’s territories: “[i]n all cases, no treaty may be concluded which is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution or which leads to concession of state territories.” (Id. art. 151(3).) Finally, the agreement’s opponents claim that the parliament has no right to discuss an agreement deemed invalid by the Supreme Administrative Court. (El-Sheikh, supra.)

On the other hand, individuals supporting the agreement argue that paragraph 1 of article 151 of the Constitution grants the parliament the authority to discuss agreements with foreign states. (Id.) Paragraph 1 states, “[t]he President of the Republic represents the state in foreign relations and concludes treaties and ratifies them after the approval of the House of Representatives.” (Constitution, art. 151(1).) In refutation of the opponents’ arguments, supporters of the agreement commented that the two Red Sea Islands were not originally part of Egypt, but were under Saudi control and part of the Saudi territories until Saudi Arabia gave them to Egypt for military protection during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, during the wars against the state of Israel. (El-Sheikh, supra.)

The approval of the parliament has caused some street protests in Cairo. Some individuals protested the parliament’s decision in front of the building of the press syndicate in downtown Cairo; others arranged protests in front of the lawyers’ syndicate building nearby. (Id.)