Egypt’s Cabinet has approved the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia despite protests earlier this year and a court ruling the transfer unconstitutional.
The state-run MENA news agency reported Thursday that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government approved the deal and sent it to parliament for ratification despite the court ruling, which the government has appealed.
The transfer was announced alongside a Saudi aid package, leading critics to condemn it as a land sell-off. The signing of the agreement in April set off the largest demonstrations of el-Sissi’s two-year rule.
The government says the uninhabited islands, Tiran and Sanafir, were always part of Saudi Arabia but were placed under Egypt’s protection decades ago over fears of an Israeli attack.
Tarek al Awady, one of the lawyers who filed the court case against the agreement, told The Associated Press that they will challenge the government’s approval of the deal in court, calling it unconstitutional. He says neither the government nor the parliament can contradict the court ruling. A higher court is set to rule on the government’s appeal on Jan. 16.
Saudi Arabia has provided billions of dollars in aid to Egypt since el-Sissi, who was then the military chief, led the overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013. But ties have worsened in recent months as Egypt has expressed support for the Syrian government. Saudi Arabia is a leading sponsor of the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.