At least 30 percent of Egyptians believe that the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian, while 23 percent consider them Saudi, according to a poll conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, “Baseera”.
That is compared to 31 percent of poll respondents who were undecided, and 16 percent who had not heard about the issue.
During the Saudi Arabian King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz's last visit to Egypt, the two countries signed an agreement redrawing the maritime borders between them. As a result of this, the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir — long believed to be under Egyptian sovereignty — were said to lie in Saudi waters and therefore must be returned to Saudi Arabia, sparking widespread outrage among Egyptians.
Seemingly, age played a significant role in the poll's results. Among the under 30s, 38 percent of poll participants believed the islands to be Egyptian, compared to 17 percent who said they are Saudi. 30 percent were undecided and 15 percent had not heard about the issue.
In contrast to this, in the over 50s category, 22 percent of people believed that the two islands are Egyptian, while 30 percent counted them Saudi. Thirty-three percent could not decide, and 15 percent had not heard of the matter.
The debate appeared to be most intense among university graduates and those in higher education, where the pro-Egyptian poll participants won by a very narrow margin. Thirty percent considered the islands to be Egyptian compared to a close 29 percent who believed them Saudi. A large proportion of graduate respondents seemed unresolved, with 37 percent saying they were not certain, and 4 percent unaware of the issue.
On the contrary, those with high school-level education or less seemed to have made up their minds more easily, with only 28 percent undecided on the matter. Thirty percent considered the two islands to be Egyptian, while 20 percent consider them Saudi. 22 percent, however, were uninformed on the debate.
When asked whether in favor or against the decision-making process for the islands' transfer, in rounded-up figures, 38 percent of those asked opposed the transfer without referendum, 34 percent were pro, and 29 percent were undecided.
Contrary to the figures concerning the islands' ownership, when it came to the government's approach to making the decision, it was the over 50s who objected most to the lack of public debate or referendum. According to an open-ended survey question, the largest group of opponents to the decision-making process were the over 50s, at 44 percent. Among young people, a sizeable 26 percent were in favor of the government's lack of consultation of the population.
Of the overall total of respondents who opposed the transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia, 31 percent believed a referendum should have been held, while 30 percent believed a referendum was not necessary as "the two islands are Egyptian land that cannot be compromised". 10 percent believed the government and the president should have opened up the debate to the public before signing the agreement, and 19 percent did not know. A small proportion did not give a response that fell into any of these categories .
The poll was conducted by mobile phone and landline, on a sample of 1541 citizens aged 18 years old and above, covering all of Egypt's governorates.
All phone interviews were conducted from 18 to 20 April, 2016. The response rate was around 46 percent and the margin of error in the results is less than 3 percent. The poll was self-funded by Baseera as a part of its social responsibility activities.