Egypt’s President Defends Giving Red Sea Islands to Saudis

CAIRO (AP) -

Egypt’s president on Wednesday defended his country’s declared intention to hand over control over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, saying Cairo did not surrender its territory but “restored” the rights of the Saudis.

He also reiterated Cairo’s position that Egyptian security forces had nothing to do with the torture and killing of an Italian graduate student abducted in Cairo.

Egypt’s government maintains that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba belong to Saudi Arabia, which asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them from Israel. Israel captured the islands in the 1967 Middle East war, but handed them back to Egypt under the provisions of the 1979 peace treaty.

“We did not surrender our rights, but we restored the rights of others,” President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said in comments broadcast live. “Egypt did not relinquish even a grain of sand.”

“All the data and documents say nothing except that this particular right is theirs. Please let us not talk about this subject again. There is a parliament that will debate this agreement. It will either ratify or reject it.”

Cairo’s decision to transfer custody of the islands to Saudi Arabia, which must be ratified by parliament, has kicked off a storm of protest in Egypt. The decision was announced during a five-day visit by King Salman, the Saudi monarch.

El-Sissi also denied that Egypt’s security agencies were behind the killing of Giulio Regeni, who disappeared on Jan. 25, the five-year anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, when police were out in force to prevent demonstrations. Regeni’s body was found nine days later and bore signs of torture.

El-Sissi suggested that “evil folks” were behind the incident, without elaborating.

The Egyptian leader has in the past accused unidentified parties of seeking to isolate Egypt and undermine its government by engineering the death of Regeni, which poisoned Cairo’s close relations with Rome.