Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In an unprecedented move, Egypt announced Friday that the two disputed Red Sea islands, Sanafir and Tiran, fall within the territorial water of Saudi Arabia, thereby putting an end to a 60-year-old dispute with the Kingdom over their ownership.
The Egyptian government stated that it decided to renounce sovereignty in the islands to the Kingdom following the work of a joint Egyptian-Saudi committee, adding that it will soon present the new delimitation agreement of maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Egyptian controversial move that took place during the visit of Saudi King Salman to Cairo enraged many Egyptians who regard the twin islands as an indispensable part of their country.
Thus, over the weekend many Egyptian activists launched a social media campaign against Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, under the hashtag "Awad sold his land," a paraphrase of a well-known Egyptian folk song about an Egyptian farmer who sold his land.
Sanafir and Tiran have great geo-strategic importance. Besides their abundant deposits of natural resources such as oil and gas, the two islands are located at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, enabling the one who controls them to reign in shipping to the gulf.
In 1950, Egypt occupied the two islands with the concurrence of the Saudi government, who fearing that Israel might seize the islands as it seized the city of Eilat a year before, decided to protect the islands by putting them temporarily under Egyptian rule.
During the Six Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the two islands and maintained control of them until March 1979, when it signed a peace treaty with Egypt. In 2010, the Saudi Kingdom issued a statement calling on Egypt to delimit its maritime borders with Saudi Arabia.
As part of their campaign against Sisi's gesture to Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian activists spread on Twitter images of history and geography textbooks learned in Egyptian schools, according to which Sanafir and Tiran belong to Egypt's territorial water.
Egyptian politicians and former military officers joined the national outcry against Sisi. The former head of Egypt's Military Operations Authority, Abdel Munem Said, stated that the two islands belong to Egypt, since they have always been guarded by Egypt.
Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian satirist who is regarded by many as the "Jon Stewart of the Arab World," sarcastically commented on his Twitter page: "Very soon, sir, you will sell the islands for one million, the pyramids for two, and give the stone statues as a gift."
Another Twitter user, Zyad elelaimy, wrote: "The religion belongs to Allah, the islands belong to Saudi Arabia, the liquid gas belongs to Israel, the water belongs to Ethiopia and the morsels belong to the people. Those who don’t like this – welcome to the prison."
On Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood released a statement slamming "the criminal Sisi for robbing Egypt's natural resources in exchange for Saudi financial aid and support in the corrupt Egyptian regime."
Even Mohammad Morsi, the former Egyptian President who was ousted by the army in July 2013, took part in the popular clamor against the plan to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia. In an interview with Al-Jazeera on Sunday, Morsi said that Egypt's land is prohibited to non-Egyptians, stating that he "refuses to hand over even one grain of sand of Egypt's land."