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Cairo gave Jerusalem heads-up on transfer of Red Sea islands to Saudis

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Saudi Arabia and Egypt are building a bridge over the Red Sea – a move that might be partly motivated by Egypt’s dwindling economy. But analysts say the Saudi kingdom has been disappointed with the lack of economic progress. Although relations between Egypt and Saudi have warmed under President Sisi and Kind Salman, there remain differences, for example over regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Egypt’s prosecutors released on Monday five youths who were arrested for protesting against the recent agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia that declared the islands of Tiran and Sanafir within the latter country’s maritime territory. King Salman’s visit to Cairo comes amid recent strains in the relationship between the two nations, with Egyptian President el-Sisi taking a less hard-line stance against Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

The two countries also signed agreements to develop a 2250 Megawatt electricity plant with a cost of $2.2 billion, set up agriculture complexes in Sinai and develop a canal to transfer water.

Egyptian politicians received King Salman with deafening applause and a standing ovation.

Presidential Spokesman Ambassador Alaa Youssef said President Al-Sisis and King Salman stressed the need to follow up on what was recently signed of agreements. According to the officials, changes to the peace accords may not be necessary, since the Islands belonged to Saudi Arabia anyway, and Saudi Arabia is committed to the accords.

After news about the handing over of the two islands became public, Saudis expressed jubilation – and sarcasm – on social media, many making remarks about how their country would buy the pyramids next.

Jubeir said that it was the right of every country to demarcate its borders, adding that Egypt demarcated its borders with Cyprus and Saudi Arabia also seeks to define its borders with its neighbors.

The New York Times reported that King Salman has apparently been negotiating for control of Tiran and Sanafir for the last six years and that the islands were originally transferred over to Egypt by Saudi Arabia in 1950 to help keep them out of the hands of Israel.

Saudi Arabia, which opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, has showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid since general-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted elected President Mohammed Mursi of the Brotherhood in 2013 and banned the group.

Thousands of Saudi tourists visit Egypt annually, and thousands of Egyptians visit Saudi Arabia each year for Muslim pilgrimage. Ownership of them has always been disputed, with both Cairo and Riyadh claiming them, although they were officially under Egyptian control.

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