CAIRO – Men in pressed suits and polished shoes, some carrying holy books and sporting beards, rushed past cement barricades and hurried beneath a silver dome to begin setting laws for a nation that for generations had oppressed and imprisoned many of those now rising to power.
Egypt’s new parliament held its inaugural session Monday, and a sense of wonder mixed with the gravity of a country still under military rule and beset by economic turmoil. Led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which until now was banned from running for office, the chamber echoed with the voices of a burgeoning political era that is replacing the specter of Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt secular government.
“I invite the distinguished assembly to stand and read the fatiha (Muslim prayer) in memory of the martyrs of the Jan. 25 revolution,” said Mahmoud Saqa, 81, a member of the liberal Wafd party, who as oldest member of the chamber led the opening session. “The blood of the martyrs is what brought this day.”
Parliament’s 498 elected members were individually sworn in, a ceremony that went on for hours. A few squabbled, a number read the Quran. One from the ultraconservative Salafi al-Nour party said he would never “contradict Shariah law.” Another said, “We will continue the revolution.”
Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, was chosen speaker of the Assembly after a spirited challenge by a former Brotherhood member. Like his fellow legislators, el-Katatni won his parliament seat in the country’s freest elections since the 1952 coup that spawned decades of autocratic rule by presidents drawn from military ranks.
A president is to be elected in June. The military has vowed to then step aside.