Middle East

Egypt jails 51 for protesting against Saudi islands deal

An anti-government protester holds a placard near tear gas fired by policemen during a protest in Cairo, Egypt, 25 April 2016. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Policeman fired tear gas at people protesting against the islands handover in April

Egypt has sentenced 51 people to two years each in prison for protesting against a decision last month to cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

There were 33 defendants present in the Cairo courtroom to hear the verdicts, while the rest were out on bail.

Family and friends of the defendants cried in shock outside the courthouse, reports said.

The decision to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia sparked a backlash among many Egyptians.

It was made by Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi during a rare visit by Saudi Arabia's King Salman, during which the Saudi king announced plans for aid and investment in Egypt.

Critics says President Sisi "sold" the uninhabited islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in return for the investments.

Saudi-Egyptian island deal sparks anger

Image copyright Hady Messaddy
Image caption Tiran is the larger of the two islands which were ceded to Saudi Arabia

But the Egyptian government maintains that the islands always belonged to Saudi Arabia, and were only being looked after by Egypt since the 1950s.

Both secular and Islamist activists called for people to demonstrate against the transfer of the islands.

Police dispersed the protests in April, arresting dozens of people, many of whom were later charged with participation in illegal rallies.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Dozens of people were arrested during the protests

Mr Sisi has faced increasing criticism in recent months on a range of issues, including Egypt's lacklustre economy.

The president, a former army general, previously enjoyed broad support after winning the election in 2014, but has faced increasing discontent.

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