Egypt Independent

Does Parliament have the authority to give Red Sea islands agreement the kiss of life?



Directly following the declaration of an emergency state in Egypt in the aftermath of the violent church attacks on Sunday, the Parliament's Legislative Committee were obliged to discuss the controversial Red Sea islands maritime demarcation deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

According to several state-run media outlets, the Red Sea islands case was referred to the Legislative Committee upon instructions from Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdulaal in Monday's session.

The decision to refer this case to the Legislative Committee generated large-scale backlash among a number of political and popular figures. There has been much back and forth about this agreement, as the case has been passed from one court to another by the constant filing of appeals and lawsuits against previous verdicts.

The deal, signed in April 2016 by Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, stipulated that the sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands would be transferred to Saudi Arabia.

The agreement was legally invalidated by a verdict from Egypt's higher courts, including the State Council and the Higher Constitutional Court, and these verdicts cannot be appealed according to Egypt's 2014 Constitution. 

According to the final verdict issued in January by the Higher Constitutional Court, the Red Sea islands demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is invalid as the two islands are considered Egyptian territories.

Despite the fact that the verdict is final and no other authority should be able to discuss it following the court order, the Parliament received the case from the government for discussion, according to prominent Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali who is known for his advocacy of labor rights and social justice.

"The decision issued by the Parliamentary Speaker to refer the Red Sea islands demarcation agreement to the Legislative Committee is illegal as no entity has the authority to discuss it following the judicial verdicts on the agreement," Ali told Egypt Independent on Tuesday.

Ali, who adopted an opposing stance to the islands deal since its signing in April 2016, asserted that the Parliament's renewed discussion of the agreement is a sign of the judicial system's collapse in Egypt.

"Neither the Parliament nor any authority may discuss a judicial verdict; this will be considered as disrespectful to state institutions," he added.

In response to the Legislative Committee's discussion of the agreement, Ali filed another claim on Tuesday against President Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and the Ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs, accusing them of committing crimes that harm Egyptian territories.

The claim also stipulated that these officials are seeking to illegally transfer the islands to Saudi sovereignty, ignoring the presence of judicial verdicts that invalidate the Red Sea agreement, Ali explained.

Ali was the first to take a firm stance against the islands agreement along with prominent rights lawyer Malek Adly, both of whom filed a lawsuit against Sisi and Ismail. 

Adly assumes that the Legislative Committee will hold these government officials accountable for violating the Constitution by referring the deal for discussion despite the judicial verdict.

"I expect that the members of the Legislative Committee will not afford the government the opportunity to discuss it due to the judicial verdict that all Egyptians should respect," Adly explained.

Concerning the Legislative Committee's stance on the agreement and whether its review will affect the already-issued final verdict, Member of Parliament Afify Kamel, a member of the committee, told Egypt Independent that the deal's referral to the Parliament following the judicial verdict is "not legal".

"The Parliament only has the authority to discuss the agreement before the Higher Constitutional Court issues a verdict. The government should respect these judicial verdicts and we, as members of the Legislative Committee, will state our opinion on the deal following its review," Kamel said.

He added, however, that the committee's opinion on the deal will not affect the judicial verdicts that were already issued, as all governmental institutions must respect judicial verdicts.