Problems on hold
The House of Representatives has been lately shouldered with an increasing burden of parliamentary activity. In last Sunday’s editorial I wrote about the much-anticipated law for building churches, and explained that the Constitution stipulates that the law must be passed during the House of Representatives’ first round. The House was then busy discussing the government’s programme, and I feared it was running out of time and risking a constitutional predicament. Even as I wrote that, a new issue erupted that required an urgent decision by parliament. This was the issue of the two islands Tiran and Sanafir. During the recent visit of the Saudi monarch King Salman to Egypt, the Cabinet announced that Egypt and Saudi Arabia had signed an agreement by virtue of which Egypt would return the two islands to their rightful owner, Saudi Arabia. This announcement split the nation, and added another burden to parliament which has to decide on the legality of the agreement.
On the national level, it is self-evident that there are pressing priorities which the House of Representatives cannot turn its back on. Other priorities such as the law for building churches or the family bylaws for Christians must then patiently pull back. We must acknowledge that the islands issue constitutes an urgent priority that needs to be directly looked into, in order for Egypt to regain her balance, composure and stability.
I realise that in handling the issue of Tiran and Sanafir today I lag behind many journalists and writers who have already extensively tackled the issue. Yet it has always been my aim to go for accuracy and objectivity rather than to rush to report ahead of others. I alarmingly note that the issue of the two islands has turned into a squabble between two camps, with each camp claiming that it solely holds the monopoly on truth and patriotism. Sadly, the tug of war has wounded significant national fundamentals under the pretext of fearing for Egypt, her land and honour.
The issue of Tiran and Sanafir and whether they are Egyptian or Saudi territory never alarmed me in the first place. I saw it as a matter that could be resolved only through documents and historical and geographical facts, not through shows of emotional so-called patriotism to defend land which no one could conclusively claim belonged to us.
It is very sad that our reckless media, with the help of some social networking sites, set about shaking the confidence of some of the Egyptian public in the patriotism of Egypt’s political leadership, State authorities, armed forces, intelligence apparatus, and legal, military, history and diplomatic experts. These Egyptian apparatuses whose primary concern is national security were unabashedly accused of “selling Egyptian land to the Saudis for a price paid during King Salman’s visit”. How could the patriotism and integrity of all these sovereign entities be doubted without proof of documents or studies, merely on grounds of conspiracy theory and squawking, screaming claims of defending the nation’s soil? Every Egyptian is entitled to question, study and investigate any issue; and the Constitution stipulates that parliament must give its approval to agreements such as that involving the two islands before it takes effect. The storming of emotions, nerves and patriotic hysteria, to withdraw confidence from those in charge is absolutely uncalled-for.
Instead of the chaotic hysteria, should not all the possibilities have been studied? If the documents and evidence prove that the two islands are Saudi but have been under Egyptian administration for a long time for military and security reasons, should not Egypt have sufficient civilisational national integrity to return what was placed in her custody to its rightful owners once they demand it? Does patriotism imply holding on to every inch of land, even if it does not belong to us? Would not we be thus seizing what belongs to others? Would this go with Egypt’s dignity? In 2005 Egypt returned the Gaza Strip to its lawful Palestinian owners. So why not return the two islands to Saudi Arabia as long as the reason for which the Saudis put them in Egyptian custody has come to an end?
I am sure that the Egyptian administration has dealt with the case of Tiran and Sanafir with the utmost integrity, objectivity, reason and patriotism. Until parliament pronounces its final say on the matter, we have to admit that we are paying the price of the freedom that was born in the streets of the Arab Spring revolutions. This freedom is still immature and needs to be contained and nurtured until it matures.
24 April 2016