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Egypt's Islamist-Led Lower House of Parliament Holds First Session

January 23, 2012

Egypt's newly-elected lower house of parliament has held its first meeting since a popular uprising ousted autocratic president Hosni Mubarak a year ago, with Islamist lawmakers dominating the assembly.

The chamber's oldest member, Mahmoud el-Saqqah, chaired Monday's inaugural session, which began with a moment of silence for the hundreds of people killed in anti-government protests over the past year. Egyptian lawmakers then took turns reading an oath of office pledging to respect the constitution and the law.

Several members tried to modify the wording, with one Islamist member vowing allegiance to God's law and several liberals pledging to continue the reformist-led anti-Mubarak revolution. The improvised changes angered Saqqah, a liberal, who ordered the offending lawmakers to repeat the original oath.

The Islamist Freedom and Justice Party of Egypt's once-banned Muslim Brotherhood movement won almost half of the assembly's 498 elected seats in several rounds of voting that began in November and ended earlier this month.

Its nominee for speaker, Saad Katatni, was elected to the post Monday. Another Islamist group, the ultraconservative Al-Nur Party, came in second in the elections, winning about one-quarter of the seats.

Liberal factions finished a distant third and fourth. Ten members of the assembly were appointed by the military council that has led Egypt since Mubarak resigned in February. Phased elections for parliament's less powerful upper house, the Shura Council, are set to begin later this month.

The main task of the two chambers will be to choose a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution that Egypt's military rulers have promised to put to a referendum. The military council also has pledged to hold a presidential election by June and hand over power to the winner.

The Muslim Brotherhood was officially banned during Mubarak's three-decade autocratic rule.

But Brotherhood activists competed in Mubarak-era elections as independents and built a popular network of social services for the poor, helping the movement to become Egypt's best organized political force. It had been widely expected to dominate the first free elections of the post-revolution period.

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