This April 15, 2016 photo shows Egyptian protesters with placards chanting slogans during a demonstration in central Cairo against a controversial deal to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. (Photo by AFP)
An Egyptian court has begun hearing a government appeal against a lower court ruling that rejected Cairo’s handover of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
The Supreme Administrative Court held its first hearing on the appeal on Saturday, with prominent rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali arguing against the case related to the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
Ali said the two islands belonged to Egypt and submitted evidence, including atlases dating back to the early 20th century, which proved Egyptian sovereignty over the islands.
Judge Ahmed el-Shazli, who presided over the session, adjourned the hearing until October 22.
Cairo announced in April that it had reached an agreement with Riyadh to give it sovereignty over the islands, saying that they historically belonged to the kingdom as Saudis had only temporarily transferred them to Egypt in 1950, out of fear that they would be attacked by Israel.
Huge protests erupted in the Egyptian capital and other cities against the deal, which came during a visit by Saudi King Salman. Protesters said Egypt’s former head of the armed forces and current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, had sold the islands in return for billions of dollars in Saudi loans and investment.
The Sisi government has already protested against the handling of the case by the judiciary, saying the transfer of the control over Tiran and Sanafir was a prerogative for the president and it was only the parliament that had jurisdiction to ratify or reject the agreement. Activists say, however, the case will certainly face no opposition in the legislature as it is packed with supporters of Sisi.
Tiran and Sanafir are two uninhabited islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. The islands control narrow shipping lanes leading north to two major ports in the occupied Palestinian territories and Jordan.

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