Egypt's president on Saturday ratified a disputed 2016 agreement under which his country would transfer control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. News of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's ratification of the maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia came in a Cabinet statement, which appeared to be carefully timed to head off street protests over the surrender of the islands. Per the AP, it was issued shortly before sunset, when most were at or heading home to break their fasts during their holy month of Ramadan. "This matter has been closed and I am only bringing it up again because we have nothing to hide," el-Sissi said in televised comments. "You have entrusted me with this nation and for this I will be held accountable not just before you but also before God."
Parliament approved the agreement on June 14 amid chaotic scenes of shouting matches by lawmakers arguing over the deal, whose announcement during an April 2016 visit by Saudi King Salman sparked the largest street protests since el-Sissi took office in 2014. Authorities have arrested at least 120 people who voiced opposition or took to the streets to protest the agreement. Most of them have since been freed. The government maintains that the Saudis placed the two islands under Egypt's protection in the 1950s amid Arab-Israeli tension. Critics say the islands were transferred in exchange for billions of dollars of Saudi aid. The islands of Tiran and Sanafir are at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. Significantly, Tiran controls a narrow shipping lane that leads north to ports in Israel and Jordan. (Read more Egypt stories.)