The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released documents that they claim substantiate Saudi Arabia’s historical claim to the Tiran and Sanafir islands.
The ministry released the official documents on Tuesday, which include correspondence between the two countries concerning the islands.
“None of the documents indicate that Egypt has ever possessed the two islands, unlike what is being propagated,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zaid said. “The legal studies show that, according to international laws, the islands have belonged to Saudi Arabia since 1950.”
Saudi Arabia and Egypt agreed to demarcate a new maritime border during Saudi King Salman Abdel Aziz Al-Saud’s five-day visit to Egypt. The decision sparked widespread anger, leading to debates between politicians and social media users over the rightful ownership of the islands of Sanafir and Tiran.
Critics of the decision claimed the agreement was unconstitutional as the Egyptian government did not appeal to parliament for a vote of confirmation. Further, they claimed that the islands are a historical part of Egyptian territory.
“We understand the situation. But we could not announce this earlier because the technical committee had not completed its work. They were done exactly one day before the announcement,” Abu Zaid said.
Abu Zaid drew a distinction between sovereign control over the islands and maritime territory.
Egypt recently settled maritime disputes with Cyprus and was attempting to respond to Saudi Arabia’s request to use maritime resources, according to Abu Zaid. “The technical committee resumed its predecessor’s work, which was halted in 2010,” he said.
Saudi Arabia requested the return of the islands from previous Egyptian regimes. However, the requests were denied at the time due to security issues, according to Abu Zeid.
Countries in the region have observed the proceedings to understand the precedent it will set for land transfers. In an article published in the privately-owned newspaper Israeli Haartez, one analyst wrote: “The transfer of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egypt to Saudi Arabia—it does not really matter whether they are being “returned” or leased—is a good deal for Israel in the type of precedent it sets. Only people who look backward will relate to it with concern.”
Meanwhile, in a statement issued Monday, the Ministry of Environment denied reported claims that it removed the two islands from the map of nature reserves.
On Saturday the cabinet announced that after nearly six years of discussions and negotiations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Egypt transferred sovereignty of the two islands to Saudi Arabia.