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Egypt/Saudi Arabia: Bilateral Agreement on Maritime Demarcation Approved by Ministers

(Jan. 12, 2017) On December 29, 2016, the Council of Ministers of Egypt approved a maritime demarcation agreement between the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to the agreement, Saudi Arabia will assume control over two islands in the Red Sea that have been under the control of Egypt. Following its approval of the agreement, the Council of Ministers referred it to the Parliament for further debate. (Cabinet Approves Red Sea Islands Demarcation Deal, Sends Agreement to Parliament, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Dec. 29, 2016).)

On January 2, 2017, the Judicial Committee of the Parliament declared that it had received the provisions of the agreement from the Council of Ministers and announced that it would disseminate the agreement among the Members of Parliament for open discussion. (Demarcation Agreement Will Be Discussed with Full Transparency: Parliament’s Judicial Committee, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Jan. 2, 2017).)

Background

The agreement has been the subject of public debate since April 2016, when the Egyptian media announced that it had been approved by the government. A group of Egyptian lawyers, as plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit that same month before the State Council Administrative Court (a first instance court) challenging the legality of the agreement. In June 2016, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs by abolishing the agreement and ordered the Egyptian state to continue to exercise all acts of sovereignty over the two islands. (George Sadek, Egypt: Repeal of Maritime Demarcation Agreement with Saudi Arabia, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 23, 2016).)

Following the decision of the first instance court, the Egyptian government filed an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court. The Supreme Administrative Court has scheduled a final hearing on January 16, 2017, to render its final decision on this matter. (Administrative Court Postpones Final Verdict on Red Sea Islands Deal to 16 January, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Dec. 19, 2016).)

Reaction to Referral of the Agreement to the Legislature

Lawyers and human rights activists, such as Malek Al-Adly, one of the lawyers who challenged the legality of the agreement, consider the Council of Ministers’ action of sending the agreement to the Parliament to be a violation of Egyptian law. Al-Adly argues that the Council of Ministers does not have the legal authority to refer the agreement to the Parliament, because the legality of the agreement is being disputed in court. (Sending Red Sea Islands Agreement to Parliament Is a Violation: Malek Adly, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Dec. 30, 2016).)

Al-Adly also claims that the Egyptian government failed to submit to the Administrative Court any documents supporting the government’s claim that the agreement is legal. He further suggests that the government’s referral of the agreement to the legislative branch defies the decision issued by the first instance court that had declared the agreement to be illegal. (Id.) Finally, Al-Adly says that the referral is directly in violation of article 123 of the Penal Code, which obligates public servants to follow all court decisions. (Id.; Law No. 58 of 1937 (Criminal Code), as last amended by Law No. 95 of 2003, 25 AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] (June 19, 2003), MOHAMOON.COM (in Arabic).)