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Islamist voted speaker of Egypt's upper house

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 8:00 a.m. MST

Egypt's Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri speaks during a working session of the Egyptian parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. Egypt's ruling military council has called on parliament to meet March 3 to select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution. A statement on Sunday by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said the panel will be formed at a meeting of the two houses of parliament. (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

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CAIRO — Egypt's newly elected upper house of parliament picked an Islamist as its speaker on Tuesday, consolidating control by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party over the two legislative chambers.

The election of pharmacology professor Ahmed Fahmy as speaker of the Shura Council came during the chamber's inaugural session. Saad el-Katatni, like Fahmy a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, was elected speaker of the more powerful lower house, or People's Assembly, on Jan. 23.

The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt's oldest and most powerful Islamic organization. Its Freedom and Justice Party members hold just under half of all seats in the 508-seat lower house and 106 of the Shura Council's 180 elected seats. An additional 90 lawmakers are due to be appointed by the ruling generals who took over power when Egypt's longtime authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted after a popular uprising a year ago.

The generals are expected to leave the appointments to the nation's next president, due to be elected before the end of June. Then the generals say they will hand over power to a civilian government.

Ultra-orthodox Islamists known as Salafis made strong showings in elections for both chambers, finishing second behind the Freedom and Justice Party and giving parliament a distinct Islamic character. The two houses are due to hold a joint session later this week to select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, the main role of the chambers, chosen in Egypt's first free elections in decades.

Liberal and secular activists who spearheaded the mass demonstrations that toppled Mubarak last February fared poorly in the election for the Shura Council, repeating their failure in voting for the People's Assembly.

As was the case when the People's Assembly held its first session, Salafi members of the Shura Council improvised when taking their oath of office on Tuesday. The oath ends with a pledge to respect the constitution and the law, but several of them added "God's law" or said "as long as there are no contradictions with God's law."

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