The head of the Administrative Judiciary of the State Council, Bakhit Ismail, scheduled a court session on 7 February to review an appeal filed by lawyer Khaled Ali against the referral of the Egyptian-Saudi maritime demarcation deal to the parliament.
The lawyer filed the lawsuit on Saturday in rejection to the cabinet’s approval of the agreement on Thursday and its decision to forward it to parliament for voting. This will decide whether the sovereignty of the Tiran and Sanafir islands will be transferred to Saudi Arabia or not. The lawsuit is filed against the prime minister, parliamentary speaker, president, minister of defence, and minister of foreign affairs.
This came at a time when the agreement is assumed to be sent to parliament on Sunday. The parliament declared the formation of a specialised committee that consists of the legislative, defence and national security, and Arab affairs committees.
A member in the parliamentary Defence and National Security Committee said during their discussion of the agreement that the specialised committee will consider reviewing all official maps and documents to check their validity.
The cabinet’s decision comes just weeks prior to the scheduled final ruling of the Administrative Court on 16 January over the government’s appeal against the nullification of the deal—a verdict that was issued in July by the State Council.
The decision came as a surprise for those who opposed the deal and brought the agreement to court and made them pessimistic regarding the case’s future, asserting that the cabinet’s decision violated the State Council’s verdict.
Moreover, the controversy among political parties, lawyers, and activists around the agreement increased following the cabinet’s decision, which raised fears regarding the Administrative Court’s final verdict.
The cabinet had not announced that it had started discussing the agreement, as that would have stirred more controversy.
The cabinet’s decision was part of a number of actions taken by the government that are all considered alarming against the anticipated final verdict.
Ali, one of the initial plaintiffs who brought the agreement to court, told Daily News Egypt: ”The decision to refer the agreement to parliament is unconstitutional, as there is an official court verdict issued regarding the deal. Therefore, there is no room for discussion”.
On 21 June, the State Council ruled to stop the agreement, and asserted the islands’ Egyptian sovereignty. This is the only issued court verdict so far in the case.
The cabinet and the parliament do not have right to discuss or approve of an agreement that the State Council had previously annulled, and the government’s stance violated the judiciary’s verdict, Ali continued.
Article 190 of the Constitution stipulates that ”the State Council is an autonomous judicial body, and it shall have the exclusive jurisdiction to settle administrative disputes and disputes relevant to the execution of all its rulings”. This implies that State Council Court is considered the highest judicial entity in the country.
Lawyer Malek Adly, another plaintiff in the case, had previously commented on the decision, saying that it is violation of the Constitution and the rule of law, adding that the government could face criminal charges if the parliament approves the demarcation deal prior to the court’s ruling.
In conjunction with Ali’s lawsuit, the Urgent Matters Court refused an appeal against a previous court decision that rejected the annulment of the Egyptian-Saudi maritime border agreement on Tiran and Sanafir islands in its final ruling session, in which the agreement has been ruled valid until an Administrative Court issues its final verdict in the case.
This was an unexpected action by the government regarding the case, which was seen as a step supporting the state’s claims that the islands belonged to Saudi Arabia.
Adly had previously said that the Constitution grants the Urgent Matters Court the right to rule on such cases, but this was omitted from the constitutions of 2012 and 2014, and this is a political move to transfer the sovereignty of the islands to Saudi Arabia.
“The state uses the Urgent Matters Court for political reasons and this is unconstitutional,” the lawyer added.
Throughout the appeal session in the Administrative Court, lawyers opposing the deal have tried to prove Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands through historical documents. On the other hand, the government raised around 10 arguments to prove Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty over the islands that were contradictory.
On 8 April, the government concluded the demarcation deal that sought to transfer the sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia during an official visit by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.