Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has hit back at criticism of a deal to hand Saudi Arabia two islands and of the investigation into an Italian student's murder, saying "evil" people were conspiring against his country.

Sisi's comments came on Wednesday after a deal was announced on Saturday that set maritime boundaries with Saudi Arabia, placing two islands in the Red Sea within the kingdom's borders.

The announcement, which came as a surprise to many Egyptians who thought the islands belonged to their country, came during a five-day visit by Saudi Arabian King Salman.

It provoked a backlash on social media and even in press normally loyal to the president, with thousands tweeting a hashtag accusing Sisi of selling the land.

Sisi said the islands, which Saudi had leased to Egypt in 1950, belonged to the kingdom, something he said was recognised by former president Hosni Mubarak in 1990.

"We don't sell our land to anyone, and we don't take anyone's rights," Sisi said.

"Why are Egyptians more suspicious of each other than people are in other countries?" he asked, suggesting experts and religious scholars should look into the question.

Italian envoy withdrawn

Meanwhile, Italy suddenly said it was withdrawing its ambassador from Cairo, citing a lack of progress in the probe into Giulio Regeni's death.

The Cambridge University student was found murdered more than a week after his disappearance from Cairo earlier this year.

The Italian press has suggested that Egyptian security services were behind his abduction and murder, which Egypt denies.

Addressing both issues in a speech to a group of officials and journalists, Sisi suggested conspirators were working against the country.

"The conspiracy by the people of evil, they have been at work, and are still working," Sisi said, adding that he would not identify them.

"Trust the man you entrusted with your country, with your honour. Your land is your honour. I'm saying, guys, there's a lot of chaos," he said in the speech, broadcast live on state television.

Source: AFP