CAIRO – Egypt's highest court on Wednesday ordered a temporary suspension of rulings by other courts on a 2016 deal that transfers two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, deepening the legal wrangling over the issue.
The Supreme Constitutional Court said its decision was made upon a government request and that the other tribunals may have infringed on the prerogatives of the government's legislative and executive branches.
Since the agreement was announced 14 months ago, two administrative courts have ruled to annul the deal, arguing that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba belong to Egypt. A third court, however, ruled that it should be implemented and contended the other two tribunals had no jurisdiction over the issue.
Wednesday's decision open possibilities for new judicial moves that may or may not back the islands handover.
The government has insisted the islands were always Saudi but placed under Egyptian protection in the early 1950s amid Arab-Israeli tension. Parliament, a 596-seat chamber packed with government supporters, ratified the agreement last week. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has to sign off on the deal before it goes into effect.
The Supreme Constitutional Court is scheduled to open hearings next month on a request filed by the government seeking a ruling on whether the administrative courts that ruled against the agreement had jurisdiction.
In his first public comments on the issue since parliament's June 14 ratification, el-Sissi late Tuesday said the issue of the islands has been "concluded" and that his government has nothing to hide — an allusion to charges that Egypt was giving up the islands in return for billions of dollars in Saudi aid.
"The rights of others must be restored," el-Sissi said, referring to the islands being Saudi territory.