(Reuters) – Egypt’s plan to hand over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia under an agreement that has caused widespread controversy moved closer to fruition with parliament set to vote on the measure on Wednesday.
A key parliamentary committee unanimously backed the plan and referred it to parliament for a final vote before it can be ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, its chairman told journalists.
“We have unanimously approved the maritime demarcation accord with Saudi Arabia and it will be voted on in the general session today,” said House of Representatives Committee on Defence and National Security Chairman Kamal Amer.
Sisi’s government last year announced a maritime demarcation accord with Saudi Arabia, which has given billions of dollars of aid to Egypt, ceding control of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to the Gulf kingdom.
The transfer plan sparked rare street protests last year from many Egyptians, who say their country’s sovereignty over the islands dates back to a treaty from 1906, before Saudi Arabia was founded.
Dozens of protesters gathered in downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening and organisers said a handful were briefly detained.
The treaty was referred to the courts, irritating Riyadh and raising tensions between two major Arab states and traditional allies.
Egypt’s highest administrative court has blocked the deal but parliament insists the matter is constitutionally within its domain, putting the legislature and the judiciary at odds.
(Reporting by Nashaat Hamdy; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Giles Elgood)