Egypt appeals reversed ruling ceding islands to Saudi Arabia

Egyptian lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, left, speaks during a press conference outside the high administrative court in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. The court has held its first hearing on a government appeal against a lower court ruling in June that rescinded an agreement to hand over control of two key Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO - An Egyptian court on Saturday held its first hearing on a government appeal against a lower court ruling in June that rescinded an agreement to hand over control of two key Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The Supreme Administrative Court heard prominent rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali argue that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir belonged to Egypt. Ali submitted evidence, including Egyptian atlases dating back to the early 20th century.

Egypt's government, which announced the agreement in April, argues that Saudi Arabia had only temporarily handed over control of the Islands to Egypt in 1950, fearing they would be attacked by Israel.

The agreement sparked the largest anti-government protests in Egypt since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office in June 2014. It was announced during a high-profile visit to Cairo by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, in which he pledged billions of dollars to Egypt in loans and investment, prompting speculation that the transfer of sovereignty was the price for financial aid.

The government, additionally, argues that returning the islands to Saudi control is a presidential prerogative and that only parliament has the jurisdiction to ratify or reject the agreement. Egypt's 596-seat legislature is packed with el-Sissi supporters.

The uninhabited islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba control the narrow shipping lanes leading north to the ports of Eilat and Aqaba, in Israel and Jordan respectively.

Ahmed el-Shazli, the presiding judge, adjourned the hearings until Oct. 22.

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