Egypt’s parliament has approved the transfer of two key islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, all but finalizing a deal to restore ownership of the islands to Saudi Arabia after more than half a century.
The parliament, after “three days of rowdy and emotional debate” according to the New York Times, approved a new demarcation of the maritime border with Saudi Arabia, which includes handing over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
The islands are currently uninhabited and barren, but their location is of significant strategic importance. Both Tiran and Sanafir are just miles off the cost of the Egyptian resort town, Sharm El-Sheikh, and are located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba in between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. According to the New York Times, Saudi Arabia has invested at least $25 billion in aid and investment into Egypt since 2014.
An Egyptian judge previously ruled against the deal, and a rare protest was held against the proposal. Some Egyptians have taken to social media to continue the protest. On the geolocation tags for the islands on Google Maps, users have commented that the islands will always remain part of Egypt.
The approval of the parliament was the last step before the final ratification.
In the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic and social reform plans, recreation and tourism are important facets. Saudi Arabia plans to develop areas on its Red Sea coast for greater access for tourists and visitors.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have discussed building a land bridge connecting the two countries for years, and in 2016, King Salman and President Sisi reconfirmed that intention. It is likely that a Saudi-Egypt causeway would connect using the islands.