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An Egyptian court ruled on Monday against the government's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia — a landmark verdict likely to deepen tensions with the kingdom and embarrass President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court in Cairo rejected an appeal by el-Sissi's government against a lower court's decision in June to annul the islands' handover agreement. That deal was signed last April during a high-profile visit by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, who during the visit pledged billions of dollars to Egypt in loans and investments.

The agreement was condemned by many Egyptians who perceived it as a land sell-off. Others saw the surrender of Egyptian territory by el-Sissi and his government as a worrying precedent.

The deal also sparked the largest protests against el-Sissi's two-year rule. Ignoring the legal process, the government late last month sent the deal to parliament — a 596-seat chamber packed with el-Sissi supporters — for ratification.

Monday's verdict was met by an eruption of jubilation by activists and lawyers in the Nile-side Cairo courtroom, with some singing the national anthem and chanting patriotic slogans.


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