Live television coverage of the 12-hour long session made clear the Islamist — and male — domination of parliament. Most members had beards of various lengths. Only a few women were in sight; about one percent of the parliament is female.
Outside, police in riot gear lined up to protect the area as protesters with differing messages filled the streets.
The chamber’s most important task will be to appoint a 100-member assembly that will write the constitution laying out the powers of the parliament, the future president and the state.
The strong Islamist presence in the People’s Assembly, the lower house of Egypt’s bicameral system, is indicative of the rise of political Islam since the revolts that shook the Arab World forced four autocrats from power. A revolt in Syria and unrest in Bahrain continue.
Islamists in Tunisia did similarly well in elections late last year and Libyan Islamists are expected to run strongly in parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year.“The era of exclusion is over,” said Mohammed Saad el Katatny, a leading member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party who was chosen as parliament speaker Monday. “All the parties represented in parliament must have their share.”
Outside the parliament building, thousands of supporters of the relatively moderate Freedom and Justice Party, which won 47 percent of the seats, and the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, which took 25 percent, celebrated what they see as the first true sign of democracy.
“This is the first benefit of our revolution,” said Madeh Sayed Taha, 24, who came from work at a nearby luxury hotel. He is a staunch supporter of the Salafist party.
The clean-shaven young man woke up at the crack of dawn and sat outside the parliament building beginning at 7 a.m. to wait three hours for parliament to begin its session.
“My happiness dragged me here. This is the parliament that will stop the corruption that plagued us for decades,” he said.
As he spoke, people wearing paper masks of faces of slain protesters flooded into the crowd. “Down with military rule, down with the People’s Assembly,” they chanted.
The scene was a reminder of divisions over Egypt’s future. Some Egyptians have no faith that the parliament will be able to overrule the nation’s military officials, who assumed power on Feb. 11 when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Others worry that the deaths of anti-government protesters will be forgotten.
Liberals and leftists took fewer than 20 percent of the parliament’s seats. Many of their parties represented the youth activists who spearheaded last year’s uprising.