Security forces have arrested 100 people in nine provinces during protests over the signing of a maritime border demarcation agreement that locates the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir within Saudi territorial waters, an anonymous Interior Ministry source said on Friday.
The protestors were detained for allegedly demonstrating without prior permission, blocking roads and assaulting security personnel, said the unnamed source.
The protests took place on Friday in response to calls from various political groups and parties, seeking to increase pressure on the government over the deal to transfer the two Red Sea islands to Saudi control, a move the Egyptian goverment describes as returning them to their former owners.
Among the political groups calling for demonstrations were the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Democratic Current Coalition — which includes six political parties — and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Among those arrested were 17 journalists and photographers working for different newspapers, according to the ministry source. Seven of the journalists were later released.
Security personnel checked the identities of the arrested journalists and photographers to make sure they do not work for Muslim Brotherhood news websites and TV channels.
The arrested protesters were held at Abdeen and Qasr al-Nil police stations, a source told Al-Masry Al-Youm, adding that they blocked Abdel Khaleq Street.
Supporters of the protests commented on social media platforms, saying that the protests would continue through April until Sinai Liberation Day, which falls on April 25.
Thousands of protesters demonstrated on Friday outside the Journalists Syndicate, located in downtown Cairo. Security troops attempted to disperse the protesters, which resulted in clashes.
On Thursday, security forces dispersed two protests in the vicinity of Al-Istiqama mosque in Giza and Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in Mohandiseen district, using tear gas. Several protesters were arrested.
On April 8, Egypt and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement clarifying the demarcation of maritime borders between the two nations, just one of several deals signed during the visit to Egypt of Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz.
In a statement last week, the Egyptian Cabinet said that the agreement places the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir within Saudi territorial waters, although the agreement will need to be reviewed by parliament before it is ratified.
The two islands are of great strategic importance, being located at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also agreed to build a bridge linking the two countries, using the islands as stepping stones. The bridge is part of a strategic co-operation project between the two nations, aimed at boosting trade, tourism and military cooperation, with the proposed bridge being of central importance.
Once completed, it will provide a second crossing point between Africa and Asia, one that bypasses Israel.
The Egyptian government has been engaged in negotiations on territorial issues with Saudi Arabia for many years, and announced last week that the islands should be returned to Saudi control after six decades under Egyptian protection. According to the Egyptian government, the islands were placed under Egyptian military protection by Saudi Arabia in 1950, and the two sides have been debating their return since then.
Sisi has stated that the return of the islands is in line with a presidential decree issued 26 years ago, and that the UN was notified of the presidential decree at the time. However, it was not put into effect until now, he said.
Meanwhile, critics of the President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have queried the assertion that the islands ever belonged to Saudi Arabia, stating that they are Egyptian territory that has simply been given away.
The Egyptian government has stated that it has various historical documents proving that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and were temporarily under Egyptian protection. However, so far, these documents have not been made public, causing many to doubt their existence.
Edited translation from Aswat Masriya and Al-Masry Al-Youm