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Egypt parliamentary committee approves islands deal with Saudis

The legislative and constitutional committee of the Egyptian parliament finally approves a controversial deal with Saudi Arabia on the control of two islands in the Red Sea.

The deal was approved on Tuesday as 38 lawmakers voted in favor of the agreement with Saudi Arabia, which hands over the sovereignty of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. Eight members of the committee voted against.

Egypt’s minister of parliamentary affairs Omar Marwan said the parliament’s defense committee should also examine the deal before it goes to a general vote in the house.

The vote paves the way for the final approval of the deal by Egypt’s parliament as many in the 596-seat chamber support President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. The former army general, who had reportedly served for a while as Egypt’s military attaché in Saudi Arabia, signed the deal with the Riyadh last year under the pretext that the islands, located at the southern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, were Saudis and had been placed under Egypt’s custody in the 1950s to protect them against Israeli aggression.

Sisi referred the deal to the parliament in December after it sparked protests across Egypt. Many said at the time that the Sisi administration had given up control over the islands in return for financial aid from Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (AFP photo)

Fierce arguments erupted during the three-day debate in the parliamentary committee as members exchanged accusations of treason. The raucous hearings occasionally came close to blows, prompting speaker Ali Abdel-Aal to threaten to adjourn the meetings.

Reports said Sisi’s government had sought to ease concerns in the parliament by issuing a report on the matter, reiterating that Egypt would not totally abandon the islands after handing over sovereignty and would retain administrative control. The report had also advised lawmakers that Egyptians would not need visas to visit the territories.

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