June 16, 2017 / 8:48 PM / in a year

Egyptian police deploy to deter Red Sea islands protest

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police deployed in force on Friday to deter protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s plan to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

An aerial view of the coast of the Red Sea and the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir is pictured through the window of an airplane near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 1, 2016. Picture taken November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Parliament voted on Wednesday to hand over the two uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir and Sisi is expected to ratify the decision soon.

Politicians and activists opposed to the deal had called for protests on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, center of the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011.

At least a dozen police vans and trucks were positioned around the square and in side streets on Friday. The metro station in the square was closed as a security precaution.

Armed police were also stationed in and around the Journalists’ Syndicate building, scene of a protest earlier in the week.

Protest organizers said supporters had dispersed before the event started. Social media posts said other small protests in Cairo and elsewhere were quickly broken up by police.

The plan to cede the islands to Saudi Arabia, which has given Egypt billions of dollars of aid, was announced last year and has become mired in political protest and legal action.

Opponents of the plan say Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands dates back to 1906, before Saudi Arabia was founded.

Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands belong to the kingdom and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.

Small demonstrations have taken place over the past few days, despite a state of emergency imposed by Sisi in April following a wave of bomb attacks on Christian churches.

The controversy over the islands comes as Sisi is losing much of the popularity he enjoyed after overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. With an election due next year, he is facing mounting criticism over the struggling economy and is seen by many Egyptians as a traitor for giving up the islands.

Reporting by Amina Ismail and Mohamed Abdellah; editing by Giles Elgood and Janet Lawrence

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