Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on Friday to protest their government’s decision this week to cede two Red Sea islands to neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The islands, Tiran and Sanafir, sit at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, the lone gateway to the Red Sea for both Israel and Jordan.
Critics of the transfer say the islands belong to Egypt. But the government says they fall within Saudi maritime boundaries and that they were only put under Egyptian management in 1950 when the two countries were trying to consolidate a strategic military position against Israel.
President Abdel Fattah Sisi has said the decision to hand over the islands was based on historical documents from various government departments, as well as a 1990 presidential decree.
Demonstrations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities demanded that the new maritime border agreement be abolished.
“Bread, freedom and those islands are Egyptian!” they chanted.
“I came out today because I am fed up with the regime’s successive failures,” said Kareem Adel, a 25-year-old lawyer. “Thousands of political dissidents are jailed by this regime, rights advocates are being targeted, the ailing economy and now giving away our own land.”
Police used tear gas to break up several marches and cordoned off the biggest protest, outside the journalists’ syndicate in downtown Cairo. According to state newspaper Al-Ahram, at least 25 people were arrested.
The marches came in defiance of Egypt’s new protests law, which was issued in November 2013 and bans gatherings held without the authorities’ formal consent.
Hassan is a special correspondent.