The Egyptian Interior Ministry has warned of legal action against participants in demonstrations against Cairo’s decision to hand over the control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
In a Thursday statement, the ministry called on Egyptians “not to get carried away by tendentious calls for protests,” adding that it would take “all decisive legal measures” against protesters.
Egypt’s government has been under fire since it announced in a statement released on Saturday that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia as stipulated in a maritime border agreement signed between Cairo and Riyadh the previous day.
Legal experts and opposition figures, including exiled politician, Ayman Nour, and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood, have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the agreement, arguing that relinquishing authority over Egyptian territory is unconstitutional.
Thousands have also taken to online social networks, accusing President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money.
Tiran Island is located at the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba. Its strategic significance lies in the fact that it is an important sea passage to the major ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel.
Israel briefly took over the island during the Suez Crisis in late 1956, and once more between 1967 and 1982 following the Six Day War.
Sanafir Island is in the east of Tiran Island, and measures 33 square kilometers (13 square miles) in area.
Ownership of the two islands was handed to Egyptian control in 1982, when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the so-called Camp David peace accords.