Egyptian junta leader Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had been criticized for awhile for being a recipient of Saudi largesse, and is now facing a full-blown crisis with his announcement that a pair of Red Sea islands are being transferred to Saudi Arabian control.
The islands, Tiran and Sanafir, are unpopulated, and have been recognized by treaty as part of Egypt since the 1840 Convention of London. Officially, the Egyptian junta is claiming the islands were “always” Saudi maritime possessions, despite Egypt having historically claimed them for decades, and the Saudis never doing so.
This is giving the Egyptian public the impression that the junta has effectively “sold” the islands to the Saudi government. Indeed, a big part of giving the islands to the Saudis is trying to get the Saudis to build a bridge between their territory and the Sinai Peninsula, which will go across one of those islands.
The extent country of Egypt has had legal ownership of Tiran and Sanafir since the end of their status as a British protectorate in the 1950s. The islands were occupied militarily by Israel in 1967, with Israel using unconfirmed claims of a Jewish community on Tiran in the 6th century as part of their own claim over the islands, which were returned under the 1979 peace deal.
Which adds an interesting side-note to this deal, as the status of the islands was a subject of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, along with Israeli rights to traverse the Straits of Tiran to access the Red Sea, it seems Israel is very much involved in this “transaction.” Some reports are suggesting Saudi Arabia has been brought into the 1979 deal, at least as it relates to the islands, and that the Israeli parliament will have to vote to sign off on the change.
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