Red Sea Islands Case: Administrative Court Judgment Order

On June 21, 2016, a lower level administrative court in Egypt ruled that the government lacked the authority to transfer sovereignty over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The first issue faced by the court was jurisdictional: whether the government's acts regarding the islands were subject to judicial review. Courts in Egypt generally decline to exercise jurisdiction over what in the French legal system (upon which Egypt's is roughly modeled) are called "acts of government," which in Egypt are generally referred to as sovereign acts or State acts. In France, the acts of government doctrine is applied by courts to disputes involving the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, or involving acts that are integral to the conduct of foreign policy. In Egypt, though flexible in application, the doctrine is essentially the same.

In this case, the court ruled that the signing by the Prime Minister of an agreement with Saudi Arabia before it was ratified by the Parliament is a mere administrative decree over which the Administrative Court had jurisdiction.

In this, the court took an approach to the State acts doctrine that was both flexible in its application and aggressive in dismissing the government's position. This may actually be the most significant aspect of the court's ruling.

The next issue concerned the relationship between Egypt and the islands. The government's position was that Egypt had never exercised sovereignty over the islands, only administrative control. The court rejected the government's position and ruled that Egypt exercised sovereign control over the islands.

The next issue was whether the government had the legal authority to relinquish sovereignty over the islands to Saudi Arabia, at least in the manner in which the government had undertaken to effect the transfer. The court ruled no, and said that among other illegalities, the agreement violates Articles 4, 97, 151 and 190 of the 2014 constitution.

The government has the right to appeal the ruling.