Islands of Trouble II

A previous post on Egypt’s transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia examined the dangers implicit in the hyper-nationalism demonstrated in the public’s response. But there are other dangers as well in that incident. Chief among them is the bumbling exhibited by the Egyptian government.

Most legalistic analysis favor “Saudi” ownership of the islands. The quotes are meant to reflect that such ownership dates back to before the establishment of the third Wahabi state now known as Saudi Arabia. That critical fact aside, other aspects should also be noted. In the wars between Israel and Egypt, Israel made an implicit assumption about Egyptian ownership by occupying the islands as part of various offensives. The military and diplomatic efforts by Egypt and other countries to return the Sinai to Egypt included the two islands. The Egyptian state had a de facto ownership. Before abandoning that ownership it had the obligation to explain its reasoning and motivations to the public, especially given the long negotiations leading up to the transfer. In skipping over this step the state put a major dent in its claim to sovereignty and competence. These are not trivial points.  The anger of the Egyptian public was mis-directed. It should have been directed less against the return and more against the manner of the return. In a region of collapsing states, the largest of them all whacked itself in the head needlessly. That is rank incompetence.

If sovereignty is taken seriously, and it must be here because the Egyptian state campaign of violence against many of its opponents rests on that claim, then relinquishing of any territory must be done with utmost sobriety and ceremony. The casualness of the transfer, even after long negotiations, has damaged the state’s claim to competence and thus empowers many of its doleful opponents. Anyone who cares for Egypt must insist that President Sisi address this point with something stronger and more detailed than “trust me”.

— Maged Atiya


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