a royal visit – with a price

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’s 5-day visit to Egypt was prominent in the news this week. The King’s entourage included 800 people, among them 18 Saudi ministers and 25 princes, in addition to media personnel and Saudi officials. They stayed in 5 hotels in downtown Cairo overlooking the Nile.

The first announcement was that Salman has donated to Egypt 1.6 billion dollars in this visit to fund the development of the Sinai and a hospital. Egypt’s Cairo University awarded him an honorary Ph.D. degree and President Sisi awarded him the Nile Collar Award for his ‘efforts and support of Egypt’.

For the first time in the Orthodox Church’s history, and the first time in the Kingdom’s 84-year-old history, a Saudi King invites the Pope to his residence in Cairo for a courtesy meeting [April 8]. They both discussed ‘religious tolerance’ according to news sources. Needless to say,Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest violators of freedom of religion worldwide. The Pope allegedly thanked the King for the treatment of Egyptians in Saudi Arabia and spoke of the ‘good relations’ between Egypt and the Kingdom.

In addition, the King will give a speech before parliament April 10th.

People close to the Egyptian and Saudi officials announced that the King has some big surprises to the Egyptian people that he will announce soon. They speculated that The King will put a large sum of money as a loan – to the tune of 25 billion dollars –  into the Central Bank to help in the counter-devaluation of the Egyptian pound and help Egypt both economically and strategically. Already Saudi Arabia has bank trust in Egypt for 2 billion dollars – a loan of course.

Meanwhile, a businessman told Reuters today [April 9th] that “Saudi Arabia’s financial support for strategic ally Egypt will no longer involve “free money” and will increasingly take the form of loans that provide returns to help it grapple with low oil prices.” He added: “”Saudi Arabia will be making investments and soft loans. No more free money.”

32399The Saudi King and Egypt’s Sisi signed 17 agreements [34 in other news] among them the establishment of a Saudi University in the southern Sinai in Al Tor and is called The King Salman University that should be completed by the end of 2018 and will cost 2.5 billion dollars. Building had already started before the King’s visit.

Islamic Scholarship VillageThe King also ordered the continuation of the “Islamic Scholarship Village [Complex]” مدينة البعوث الإسلامية in Al Azhar downtown Cairo, at his own ‘personal expense.’

The Egyptian International Cooperation’s Minister Sahar Nasr stated that Cairo signed four development agreements with Saudi Arabia worth $590 million. Also, Saudi businessmen are investing $4 billion in projects including the Suez Canal, energy and agriculture, and have already deposited 10 percent of that sum in Egyptian banks, the deputy head of the Saudi-Egyptian Business Council said this week.

However there are two signed agreements that have become highly controversial, even before the King’s departure from Egypt:

1- Saudi-Egyptian Causeway: An agreement  to resurrect the Saudi-Egyptian Causeway – the bridge project – linking Egypt to Saudi that runs through the Red Sea and passes through Tiran Island. The bridge would be named the King Salman Causeway.

In 2012, under Morsi’s regime, the bridge was set to begin at an initial cost of 3 billion dollars and was to be called the King Abdullah Bridge. But in October 2013, the bridge project had been postponed because it constituted an environmental disaster and would destroy the Red Sea corals.

The Causeway was first suggested as early as 2006.  After investigation into the project,  Mubarak had refused the project for several reasons: Mubarak was worried that the Causeway would be a violation of the Camp David accords; moreover, Mubarak said that the Causeway would destroy the livelihoods of the hotel employees in Sharm Al Sheikh and would have a negative impact on tourism there.

Nothing has changed since then and yet the project is a ‘go’ and has been signed into agreement between Sisi and Salman.

A Saudi official stated that now that the bridge is being built, Sharm El Sheikh “will be Saudi like a Saudi village.” Not something Egyptians want to hear.

tiran2- Tiran/Sanafir – redrawing the borders agreement: Another agreement signed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is a highly controversial one regarding Egypt’s relinquishing and cede two small contested islands to Saudi Arabia named Tiran and Sanafir.

The story of those two islands is that there is a border agreement in 1906 established by the Ottoman Empire, long before the establishment of Saudi Arabia, that gave the two islands to Egypt. In 1950, Egypt and Saudi after a brief dispute, agreed that Egypt should continue to occupy the two islands to help in the war against Israel [see Attachments below]. Saudi did not have an army that could fight Egypt at the time for ownership of the islands. In 1951, Egypt announced that any ship that needed to pass through the Strait of Tiran has to to inform the Egyptian authorities. It also banned Israeli ships from passing. Egypt also notified the US/UN that the two islands were Egyptian-controlled. It should be noted that in 1957 Saudi Arabia tried to reclaim ownership of the islands and sent a letter to the UN to that effect. The UN ignored the request.

The islands are currently occupied by international multinational peace-keeping forces because of the original dispute, and neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt can use it. Israel briefly took over Tiran during the Suez Crisis and again from 1967 to 1982 following the Six Day War. When the Camp David Accords were signed between Egypt and Israel, it was agreed that Israel end the occupation of the two islands and they be run by the United Nations. But that never happened in reality as Israel continues to occupy them.

Many Egyptians have expressed anger over relinquishing the island which they believe is part of Egyptian land and a redrawing of the borders. Some also likened it to Ikhwan’s Morsi’s attempt to relinquish Halabja and Shalateen to the Sudan. In any case, the matter should have been taken to parliament and approved by parliament before President Sisi made any such commitment.

In all cases, regardless of whether parliament will oppose Sisi in any way – and it won’t oppose him –  article 151 of the Constitution stipulates that all international agreements have to be presented to parliament for approval as a condition of it to be in effect and to be by public referendum. It also states that all international conventions that deal with the right of sovereignty and borders should get approval through parliament and no one has the right – even through referendum to cede a single inch of Egyptian land. 

Presenting the matter to parliament for approval after the fact is unacceptable even though we know that parliament will accept whatever Sisi says. The ‘presentation’ to parliament is supposed to be for discussion and not for silent approval. In addition, the way the agreement was signed without prior discussion or knowledge by the people or by parliament is also unacceptable. The unnecessary “element of surprise” here is most likely the worst aspect of this case because it simply shows the leaders of this nation’s dismissal of the people as subjects and not as participants in decision-making.

Attachments:

Official documents give the two islands to Saudi Arabia:
  1. Decree of the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt No. 27 (1990) Concerning the baselines of the maritime areas of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 9 January 1990
  2. Royal Decree of the King of Saudi Arabia concerning maritime baselines. Council of Ministers, Resolution number 15.
  3. Document 337 – Foreign Relations of the United States 1950 – Volume V, The Near East, South Asia, and Africaترسيم الحدود 2010
  4. 23 Aide-memoire from Secretary of State Dulles to Ambassador Eban– 11 February 1957
  5.  Document sent in 2010 from the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs to the UN in response to Saudi’s claim of the two islands that says that the two islands are Saudi ‘but Egyptians are keeping the right to negotiate.”
  6. Legal status of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Strait of Tiran: from customary international law to the 1997 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. 1982. Author Anne Ellen Danseyar. [a study]
  7. 1983 and 1996 1983 and 1996Decisions of the Ministerial Council in the official newspaper in 1983 and 1996 stating the the two islands are Egyptian.
  8. Police forceDecree 422/1982 with the formation of an Egyptian police force in the two islands.
  9. More official documents may be found at this link. Other documents also found here. Also some documents from Stanford University.
  10. Documents from the Taba agreement papers proving the islands are Egyptian.
sinai1 sinai2Other conflicting sources:
A school book written by Naoum Shokeir in 1916 called “Sinai: contemporary history and geography” and republished several times since states that Tiran is Egyptian territory. That was, of course, before the establishment of Saudi Arabia.
نص من كتاب “تاريخ سينا القديم والحديث وجغرافيتها مع خلاصةتاريخ مصروالشام والعراق وبلادالعرب لنعوم بك شقير الصادر١٩١٦
 A masters student who studied the islands stated the following [will be translated at a later date]:

القانون الدولي للبحار الدولية -الثابت اللي ممكن نقيس عليه لانه هو المتفق عليه عالميا حتى الان وهو الفصل في اي نزاعات- بيقول إن الدول المشتركة في ممر ملاحي دولي ذو مساحة محدودة ، تقسم السيادة مناصفة بين الدولتين المتشاطئتين لذلك الممر، وبما إن عرض خليج العقبة ٢٤ ميل فقط ، يبقي السيادة المصرية مستمرة حتى ١٢ ميل من شاطئ سيناء، وكذلك السعودية من الجانب الاخر.

ولإن الجزيرتين بقعوا في حدود ال ١٢ ميل بحري من شاطئ سيناء، والممر الملاحي الوحيد الصالح للملاحة هو ما بين شاطئ سيناء وجزيرة ثيران، فإن السيادة – حسب القانون الدولي- تكون لصالح مصر، ولا يمكن الاعتماد على السيادة التاريخية لانها متغيرة وليست ثابتة، وحتي لو تم الاحتكام إليها فإن اخر اشارة تاريخية هي تنازل المملكة العربية السعودية لمصر عن الجزيرتين في خطاب رسمي تم ارساله لبريطانيا وامريكا، وتمت الموافقة عليه منذ 1950.

اخيرا – الجزيرتين الان خاضعين لقوات متعددة الجنسيات، منذ اتفاقية السلام وحتى اللحظة، ولهم السيطرة الفعلية، فلا مصر ولا السعودية لهم شئ هناك سوى اقامة بعض المشاريع بموافقة قيادة تلك القوات والجانب الاسرائيلي، اللي يحدد ان الانشطة والمشاريع دي لا تضر بأمنه القومي

Conflicting announcements:

It is Saudi:

It is Egyptian:

Further reading:

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