A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, April 11, 2016

Transferring Tiran and Sanafir: The Legal and Sovereignty Issues

Announcements during King Salman's visit to Egypt that the two countries are planning to build a bridge from Saudi Arabia to Sinai connecting their territories, and that Egypt was recognizing the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, in the Straits of Tiran, as Saudi territory, have raised some eyebrows, especially the latter.

The bridge,which would  bypass Jordanian and Israeli territory to connect KSA with Egypt directly, raises questions over a number of environmental issues, but the transfer of the islands is even more controversial, and has long claimed the islands, which are part of its Ras Muhammad National Park and which are often visited by tourists in Sharm al-Sheikh.

Besides being unpopular with the Egyptian public, the transfer of the islands (which still must be approved by Parliament), the islands are also part of Area C under the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, the area to be demilitarized.  Saudi Arabia is not a party to the treaty.

The islands have been in dispute since he British and Ottoman eras, and the Saudis had possession until 1950 when they allowed Egypt to occupy them to prevent possible Israeli occupation.Under Nasser, Egypt claimed them as its own territory. When Nasser closed the Strait in 1967, provoking the 1967 war, its blockade was made possible by Egypt's control of the islands. Israel occupied them along with Sinai. When it evacuated the last parts of Sinai in 1982, it returned them to Egypt, but Saudi Arabia reasserted its claims. At that time Israel indicated it would consider any transfer of the islands to be a violation of the Peace Treaty.

Is that still the case? Perhaps not, since the emerging tacit Israeli cooperation with the Gulf States over Iran may mean Israel was kept in the loop, but issues involving the treaty could resurface, though some reports say the status quo will remain undisturbed despite the transfer of sovereignty.

Egypt claims that the transfer is in keeping with a 1990 Mubarak-era decree on Egypt's territorial seas, but many Egyptians see the transfer as payment for continuing Saudi financial support for Egypt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A whole nation, which thought it had acquired an accelerated power of motion by means of a revolution, suddenly finds itself set back into a defunct epoch, and to remove any doubt about the relapse, the old dates arise again – the old chronology, the old names, the old edicts, which had long since become a subject of antiquarian scholarship, and the old minions of the law who had seemed long dead.