Egypt parliament chooses Brotherhood speaker

Mohamed Saad el-Katani, secretary-general of Freedom and Justice Party, appoints speaker during parliament's 1st session.

By REUTERS
January 23, 2012 18:17
2 minute read.
Worker prepares Egypt's parliament in Cairo

Worker prepares Egypt's parliament in Cairo 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

CAIRO - Egypt's Islamist-led parliament voted to appoint a top politician in the Muslim Brotherhood as the new assembly's speaker, the Brotherhood said on its website, a choice that would have been unthinkable when Hosni Mubarak was in power.

Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, was appointed speaker in a vote during the parliament's first session on Monday, following a raucous debate about whether candidates for the post should be allowed to address the chamber beforehand.

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The Brotherhood was officially banned under Mubarak but it was semi-tolerated. Some members of the group, such as Katatni, secured parliamentary seats even under Mubarak by running as "independent" candidates.

Egypt's parliament began its first session on Monday since an election put Islamists in charge of the assembly following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The session was opened by Mahmoud al-Saqa, 81, a member of the liberal Wafd party who, as the oldest member of the lower house, was acting as speaker. The session began with a moment of silence for those killed in the uprising against Mubarak.

One of parliament's first tasks is to pick a new speaker, expected to be Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which won the largest number of seats in the election.

The Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to guide Egypt in the transition to civilian rule after generals took charge following the fall of Mubarak to a popular uprising last February.

The rise of the Islamists marks a sea change from Mubarak's era when parliament was a compliant body stuffed with members of his National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood was officially banned though semi-tolerated.

Generals will remain in charge until after a presidential election in June when they have promised to hand over power, though many Egyptians suspect the army may seek to stay on from behind the scenes even after that.

Although Islamists dominate, it is unclear whether they will form a single bloc in parliament, which will have a key role in drafting the new constitution by picking the 100-strong assembly that will draw up the new document. The Brotherhood has said it wants to be inclusive and ensure all voices in Egypt are heard.

"We will cooperate with everyone: with the political forces inside and outside parliament, with the interim government and with the military council until we reach safety heralded by presidential election," said Essam el-Erian, deputy FJP head.

Youth movements, who put national pride before religion when they galvanized Egyptians in the 18-day revolt against Mubarak, said they would demonstrate outside the assembly to ensure protesters killed in the uprising were not forgotten.

"We do not contest the popular mandate of parliament, but it better deliver on the rights of martyrs and wounded. We fear political parties may vie for political gain and ignore the youth," activist Mohamed Fahmy said.

Liberals were pushed into third place behind the FJP and ultraconservative Islamist Salafis led by the al-Nour party, the surprise runners up. The FJP says it controls almost half the 498 elected seats, with a few re-runs still to be held.


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