Tiran and Sanafir, between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2014.
Source: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt’s parliament backed President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, snubbing court rulings invalidating the move and risking renewed protests against a treaty opponents denounced as an erosion of sovereignty.
Parliament on Wednesday passed an agreement redrawing maritime borders between the two countries after heated committee debates this week. Lawmakers were asked to stand to register their approval. Critics accuse El-Sisi, who signed the transfer accord a year ago during King Salman’s visit to Cairo, of giving up land in exchange for Saudi aid. The government says the islands — Tiran and Sanafir — have always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt was merely overseeing their administration.
In a sign of the potential trouble that could follow the lawmakers’ decision, security forces clashed with protesters outside the Journalists’ Syndicate on Tuesday, arresting some who were rallying against the transfer of the islands.
“Today is a terrible day for the Egyptian people, one in which the nation has lost part of its land,” said lawmaker Haitham al-Hariri.
The Supreme Constitutional Court will rule on who has jurisdiction but has not set a date or even started discussing the issue. It was not immediately clear what the legal situation of the treaty was following Wednesday’s vote.
A government report advising parliament on the terms of the agreement said Egypt would keep administrative control over the islands and Egyptians would not need visas to visit them if they were transferred to Saudi Arabia.
SANDS SHIFTING IN THE MIDDLE EAST?
The [Red Sea] treaty was introduced to parliament days after Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar. As the Qatar crisis continues, Saudi’s King Salman is trying to ascertain which way the winds are blowing in his kingdom.
“Are you with us or with Qatar?” Saudi King Salman raised this question during a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had visited the Gulf Kingdom for finding a diplomatic solution to the Qatar crisis.
The Saudi monarch asked Sharif to take a clear position on Qatar during their meeting in Jeddah on Monday, The Express Tribune reported, citing diplomatic sources.
“Pakistan has told Saudi Arabia it will not take sides in the brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East after Riyadh asked Islamabad ‘are you with us or with Qatar’,” the paper said.
Pakistan has been treading a careful path since Saudi and other Gulf countries snapped diplomatic ties with Qatar after accusing the oil-rich country of supporting terrorist groups. But Saudi wants Pakistan to side with the kingdom, it said.
Pakistan and India’s latest treaty signals far eastern winds that could blow across the Middle East. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit is kicking off in Kazakhstan, with the admission of India and Pakistan topping the agenda. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who already met Chinese leader Xi Jinping, will take part in the leaders’ meeting.
Official approval of India’s and Pakistan’s accession bids will become a key part of the summit. The two Asian powers have long aspired to become full members of the SCO, with their membership memoranda signed during the 2016 summit in Uzbekistan.
Moscow believes the move will dramatically expand the organization’s capacities to influence international affairs.
THE NEW AXES
The world is pairing off into two major New World Orders. The northern/eastern New World Order headed by Russia and Iran will face off with the western/southern New World Order headed by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The SCO will now include four nuclear powers – Russia, China, India and Pakistan – not to mention the member states’ economies. According to rough estimates, the SCO members combined will comprise around half of the world’s population and produce a quarter of global GDP.
Accession of more new members may also appear on the summit’s agenda.
Changing alliances and island acquisitions in the Middle East are bringing the world another step closer to the ultimate conflict.