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First Post-Mubarak Parliament Opens as Islamists Dominate

Members of Egypt’s newly formed parliament elected a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party as speaker in secret balloting today, in the chamber’s first session since the downfall of Hosni Mubarak.

Mohammed Saad el-Katatni got 399 out of 496 valid votes, said Mahmoud el-Sakka, member of the Wafd party, who temporarily headed the session as the eldest lawmaker. Voting in the assembly was broadcast on state television.

“We declare to the Egyptian people and the whole world that our revolution will continue,” el-Katatni said after results were announced. “We shall not rest until all the revolution’s goals are completed. We will avenge the death of martyrs through fair, rapid and efficient trials and build a new, democratic and constitutional Egypt.”

Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice party dominate the lower house of the assembly, in contrast to the previous parliament, which was controlled by Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party and contained no lawmakers from the Brotherhood. Freedom and Justice said its bloc won 235 of the 498 elected seats, or 47 percent.

Yellow Scarves

A number of lawmakers, mostly liberals, wore yellow scarves saying “No to military trials for civilians” during the oath-taking process which preceded the voting for speakership. This was a reference to thousands of civilians and activists who faced charges before military courts since Mubarak ceded power to the military council last February.

The oath-taking process was interrupted repeatedly as some members added their own words to the oath, reflecting their different ideologies. Some lawmakers said they will respect the constitution and the law, adding “in what doesn’t violate God’s law”. Others added pledges of respect for the revolution and its goals to their oath.

“This is a parliament that is reflective of the Egyptian people’s will,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “There isn’t any longer one party that dominates Egyptian politics.”

While the elections were the freest in decades, the seven weeks of voting failed to allay tensions between the activists who ousted Mubarak and the military council that took power from him. Protesters are calling for mass rallies on Jan. 25, the anniversary of the start of the demonstrations against Mubarak, to demand the generals transfer power immediately to civilians. The council has said it will only cede authority when a president is elected by the end of June.

Building Tensions

One of the first tasks of parliament is to select a committee that will write the new constitution, an issue that has been the focus of much political wrangling. Conflicting statements about the powers the assembly will hold in the future led to speculation of a confrontation with the country’s military rulers.

“The tensions are going to build slowly,” said Hamid. “Sometimes there will be accommodation, sometimes there will be confrontation.”

The alliance led by the Nour party, which follows an austere interpretation of Islam, holds the second-largest share of seats. Under Mubarak and his predecessors, Egypt’s security forces were used to suppress Islamist and other opposition groups.

Economic Slump

Many demonstrators say the structure of the electoral system and timing of the vote unfairly favored the Brotherhood.

The unrest of the past year has curbed tourist arrivals and foreign investment and lowered economic growth to 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest pace in at least a decade. Tourist arrivals fell 33 percent last year, while international reserves are at the lowest level since March 2005.

The government failed to achieve its target of 3.5 billion pounds ($580 million) in yesterday’s sale of nine-month treasury bills, raising less than a third of that amount and paying an average yield of 15.802 percent. That’s the highest rate since Bloomberg started tracking the data in 2006.

Egypt submitted a formal request last week for a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund on Jan. 16 to help its struggling economy. Egyptian officials said they turned down a deal for a similar debt package from the fund last June. Since then, foreign currency reserves have dropped 32 percent.

The head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, said Egypt is facing “grave and unprecedented dangers” and urged Egyptians to be vigilant to thwart “plots and conspiracies” against their country, Mena reported on Jan. 17. The army on Jan. 21 ordered the release of 1,959 prisoners convicted by military courts since the protests began.

Download: Egypt's Shoukry on Ties With Israel, U.S.

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