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Egypt arrests dozens ahead of planned Red Sea islands protests

Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of people ahead of anti-government demonstrations against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent decision to hand the control of two strategic Red Sea islands over to Saudi Arabia.

Freedom for the Brave – an action campaign designed to advocate and advance the rights of Egyptian prisoners and detainees – stated that police raided scores of cafes in the capital, Cairo, as well as houses in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria, Nile Delta and Upper Egypt regions late on Thursday, and rounded up dozens of people ahead of planned April 25 protests.

Human rights activist Amr Emam said at least 100 people are estimated to have been arrested around the North African country on Thursday night.

He added that at least 56 people were detained in Cairo, while 45 others in other areas.

Among those arrested were prominent rights activists and lawyers Haitham Mohamadein and Mohamed Mostafa.

The Egyptian government has been under fire since it announced in a statement on April 9 that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia based on a maritime border agreement signed with Riyadh the previous day.

Leader of the opposition Egyptian Popular Current, Hamdeen Sabahi, has already filed a 10-page complaint at a Cairo administrative court over the contentious deal.

The senior opposition politician said he possesses documents that prove the islands, Tiran and Sanafir, are Egyptian territory and cannot be transferred to Saudi Arabia.

Legal experts and other opposition figures, including exiled politician Ayman Nour, and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood movement have also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the agreement between Cairo and Riyadh, arguing that relinquishing authority over Egyptian territory is unconstitutional.

Egyptian protesters take part in a demonstration against a controversial deal to give two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in central Cairo on April 15, 2016. ©AFP

Thousands have also taken to online social networks, accusing Sisi of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money.

On April 15, thousands of people took part in mass demonstrations against handing the sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands over to Saudi Arabia. Egyptian riot police forces arrested at least 25 protesters.

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.

A picture taken on January 14, 2014 through the window of an airplane shows the Red Sea’s Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Red Sear between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. ©AFP

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.

The 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.


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