In an interview with Saudi state TV, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud said that Tiran and Sanafir islands belong to Saudi Arabia and this is registered officially in the two Arab states as well as internationally.
“The agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia last year was only a bilateral convention on maritime demarcation and neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia gave up an inch from their lands,” bin Salman said.
He pointed out that the maritime demarcation agreement was signed to explore more economic interests and opportunities for Saudi Arabia including the construction of the King Salman Bridge, oil and energy supplies and increasing Gulf exports to Europe.
“The media outlets that criticize the relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood — they also criticize President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi himself. But our relationship with Egypt is concrete, strong and one of the deepest ever,” he said.
The Saudi Arabian prince added that his country's relationship with Egypt would never be affected as historically both countries get along through any circumstances and this would never change. “There was no negative attitude from the Egyptian government towards Saudi Arabia and vice versa. Neither country will give up on the other,” he said.
Bin Salman believes it is doubtless that the two countries' enemies will publish speculations and rumors through Iranian or Brotherhood-affiliated media in an attempt to impact the relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia; however, he said, the leaderships will not pay attention to these altercations and trivialities.
Commenting on bin Salman’s statement, Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali, who initially brought the controversial agreement to court, posted on his official Facebook account to say that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian land. “Egypt’s flag is the only one raised on its mountains. Egyptians are the only ones who lived on it, fought for it, were captured and bit the dust for their country which was occupied and then freed with their blood, sweat and tears. They are Egyptian and will remain as they are,” he said.
On December 29, 2016, the Egyptian Cabinet approved a maritime demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia — that had already been signed eight months earlier — through which the latter would have complete sovereignty over two islands in the Red Sea, which had been under the control of Egypt. The Cabinet then referred the agreement to the Parliament for further debate. On January 2, the parliamentary Judicial Committee declared that it would disseminate the agreement among Members of Parliament for open discussion.
The convention has sparked a strong wave of public outrage among Egyptians when local media announced that Saudi Arabia's sovereignty over the islands had been approved by the government. Egyptians accused the government of giving up a part of the country's land.
A group of Egyptian lawyers, as plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit to the State Council Administrative Court (a first instance court) challenging the legality of the agreement. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs by abolishing the agreement and ordered the Egyptian state to continue exercising all acts of sovereignty over the two islands.
Following the decision of the first instance court, the Egyptian government filed an appeal which was rejected by the same court on January 16, 2017.