Egyptians have taken to social media to attack their President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for giving away two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, portraying it as a humiliating concession to his oil-rich Gulf ally.
President Sisi was mocked for handing over Tiran and Sanafir to King Salman, claiming the strategically important islands were relinquished in exchange for Saudi largesse.
Egyptian and Saudi officials signed at least 15 agreements during the king’s five-day visit, including a development package for Sinai and an oil deal worth $22billion to Egypt over five years, the New York Times reported.
Outraged activitsts portrayed the President as “Awaad”, a character in an old Egyptian song who sold his land, shamefully so in the eyes of rural Egyptians.
Satirist Baseem Youssef tweeted: “The island is for a billion, the pyramids are for two, and they come with two gift statues on top.”
Mr Sisi has even introduced a clause in the constitution explicitly prohibiting the ceding of Egyptian territory.
Since then, the economy has struggled, and the President has cracked down harshly on dissent, curtailing freedom of expression and protests. Although relations between Egypt and Saudi have warmed under President Sisi and Kind Salman, there remain differences, for example over regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The islands accord could serve to salve such tensions.
In response to the uproar, government supporters countered that Riyadh in 1950 asked Egypt to take charge of the islands' security because it feared an attack by Israel. Officials have cited diplomatic correspondence dating back decades that shows Cairo acknowledging Saudi ownership of the islands.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Cairo had never claimed sovereignty over the two islands, which are unoccupied and are roughly equidistant from the two counries, and said the decision to hand the islands back had been taken by a committee of experts.
The two islands control entry to the Gulf of Aqaba and the ports of Eilat and Aqaba in Israel and Jordan, respectively. Israel captured the islands in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war but returned them to Egypt after the two nations signed a peace treaty in 1979.
Meanwhile, Egypt's oldest secular university on Monday granted King Salman of Saudi Arabia an honorary doctorate for his "unique services" to Arabs and Muslims.
Additional reporting by AP
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