CAIRO, June 21 (UPI) -- An Egyptian court overturned a government decision Tuesday to cede two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
The tiny islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, called Tiran and Sanafir, are uninhabited except for Egyptian and multinational troops. They were ceded to Saudi Arabia in April, at the same time Saudi Arabia announced a multi-billion dollar aid package for Egypt. Some prominent Egyptians objected, saying Egypt was selling the islands and handing over its sovereignty for monetary gain.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at the time the two islands were always Saudi property, and that an agreement was simply signed stipulating that the islands are in Saudi waters. Over 150 people were arrested in protests over the cession of territory; some of them remain in jail.
The Egyptian State Council, which oversees lawsuits filed against the government, annulled the transfer of sovereignty Tuesday, issuing a verdict cancelling the maritime borders agreement between the two countries. A higher court, the High Administrative Court, could still overrule the lower court's annulment. The government is considering a challenge to Tuesday's ruling.