“Selling parts of Egypt’s soil to the Saudi regime in lieu of receiving petrodollars and granting an honorary PhD to the illiterate Saudi king is part of the shameless measures taken by the al-Sisi government that has resulted in the Egyptian people’s widespread protests,” Political Science Professor of Egypt University and Secretary of Egypt’s Nasserist Party Sayed Ahmed told FNA on Tuesday.
He reiterated that the Saudi king’s visit to Egypt comes at a difficult time as Riyadh is leading a war on Yemen and supporting the terrorists in Syria.
“The visit of the Saudi king to Egypt deemed as historic by some was not supported by any group, specially when King Salman spoke of control over the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir,” Sayed Ahmed added.
He reiterated that the islands, Tiran and Sanafir, belonged to Egypt since 1906 or 20 years before the Saudi regime was established by Britain.
“The widespread criticism by the Egyptian people heightened after the Egyptian government gave the honorary doctorate to King Salman who cannot even afford to fluently read and write the Arabic language,” Sayed Ahmed said.
Egypt’s abrupt decision to concede the full possession of its two islands to Saudi Arabia generated angry protests from Egyptians who have considered the islands to be their land for decades.
On Saturday, Egypt’s cabinet announced that it was transferring sovereignty of strategic Tiran and Sanafir islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia during Saudi King Salman visit to Cairo.
Activists said al-Sisi is selling Egyptian territory with a humiliating concession to a wealthy ally.
“Roll up, roll up, the island is for a billion, the pyramid for two, and a couple of statues thrown in for free,” well-known satirist Bassem Youssef wrote in a tweet as he mocked the concession.
Critics flooded social media with their biting posts, calling Sisi “Awaad,” referring to a character in an old Egyptian song who had sold his land – a shameful act in the eyes of Egyptians.
Others said the agreement violates the Egyptian constitution, arguing that Sisi has lost legitimacy by ceding the islands.
Sisi came to power after ousting Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.
Former officials and politicians also condemned the decision.
Former head of Egypt’s Military Operations Authority, Abdel Munem Said, said Tiran and Sanafir belong to Egypt. He urged the parliament, which must ratify the agreement, not to endorse it.
Morsi also criticized the move in an interview with Al-Jazeera, saying he “refuses to hand over even one grain of sand of Egypt’s land.”
A protest was held in the capital Cairo on Sunday against the decision. Security forces arrested five activists during the protest.
Lawyer Khalid Ali filed a lawsuit challenging the agreement, stressing that the islands are Egyptian.
Prominent Palestinian journalist Abdul Bari Atwan said in the Rai al-Youm newspaper that Saudi Arabia follows an expansionist policy and aims to capture territory in neighboring countries.
He attributed the agreement with Egypt to the country’s military and economic weakness.
Egypt is giving the two islands away in exchange for a USD 20-billion aid from Saudi Arabia, he said.
The decision, he said, was prompted by Cairo facing a USD 43-billion budget deficit, a sharp increase in its foreign debts, a high unemployment rate, a decline in the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound, and a security crisis in Sinai Peninsula, among other things.
Atwan said he expected the parliament to ratify the deal as the majority of its members are Sisi supporters but the agreement may be annulled if it comes under immense pressure from the people.
Tiran Island is located in the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba. Its strategic significance lies in the fact that it is an important sea passage to the major ports of Aqaba in Jordan.
Israel briefly took over the island during the Suez Crisis in late 1956, and once more between 1967 and 1982 following the Six Day War.
Sanafir Island is located to the east of Tiran Island, and measures 33 square kilometers (13 square miles) in area.
The ownership of the two islands was transferred to Egypt in 1982, when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the so-called Camp David peace accords.
“Here you have Salman coming to Egypt, pledging billions of dollars in aid and investment, and in exchange these islands are handed over,” Professor Samer Shehata said.
“It seems to many Egyptians that the president is selling land for Saudi riyals,” said Shehata, an associate professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma.