RIYADH: “The people call for the fall of the regime,” a slogan made familiar during the 2011 uprising in Egypt, rang eerily through the streets of Cairo last month. Defying draconian laws, thousands marched in the streets to protest against President el-Sisi’s agreement to transfer sovereignty of two Red Sea islands-Tiran and Sanafir – to Saudi Arabia. Outraged Egyptians accuse him of selling sovereign territory in exchange for ongoing financial backing from Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, all unsanctioned protests are deemed illegal under a law espoused in late 2013. In the past, security forces have not hesitated to use lethal force against peaceful demonstrators.
Fuming Egyptians insist the uninhabited islands of Sanafir and Tiran belong to Egypt, while Saudi and Egyptian officials contend they belong to the Saudis, who in 1950 asked Egypt to temporarily protect them. Located in the Red Sea, these islands are separated by a mere 4km of water. Tiran sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Strait of Tiran, a strategically important stretch of water used by Israel to access the Red Sea.