On Sunday the social media hashtag Egypt is sold (#EgyptIsSold) came out to play as Egyptians announced their displeasure and outrage over the news that Egypt had handed over two Red Sea islands; Sanafir and Tiran to Saudi Arabia as a show of gratitude for the Saudi kingdom’s immense economic aid. Thousands went online to condemn their cabinets decision.
The islands in questions have been the topic of debates for decades. Located at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, they had formerly formed the border between the Ottoman Empire and a British-occupied Egypt. They were under Israeli rule briefly in 1967 but were later returned to Egypt after the Camp David agreement was signed in 1982.
The Egyptian cabinet had declared in a statement that the decision over the uninhabited islands had been the conclusion of years of studies and 11 rounds of negotiations which had led to the admission that the islands lie in Saudi regional waters, but Egyptians do not care for that reasoning insisting that Egypt is sold.
Most Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia being a huge actor, have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt’s struggling economy. The economy has been struggling since the army unseated Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. This controversial deal therefore came as a part of a spate of economic agreements signed during Saudi King Salman’s first visit to Egypt. The accords also include the creation of a $16 billion Saudi Egyptian investment fund and the building of a bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia to be named after the king.
All of this facts must have influenced the cabinet aside, Egyptians are refusing to take this offering lying down, elevating the battle from the world social media, a number of them have been taking to the streets since Sunday to protest President Sisi’s gift.
On Sunday, local media had it that eleven protesters were arrested and today dozens of protesters gathered again to protest the controversial deal. Egyptian police fired tear gas to disperse them, but while that may have quelled them to an extent, it is important or maybe just interesting to note that the protesters who gathered outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in central Cairo were chanting; “down with military rule”. ‘Down with military rule’ was the signature slogan for the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, might find himself on very dangerous ground should the people organize in their shared outrage like they did 5 years ago when they drove out President Hosni Mubarak.