News / Africa

Islamist Set to Lead Egypt's Next Parliament

Saad el-Katatni, secretary general for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, right, attends a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 16, 2012.
Saad el-Katatni, secretary general for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, right, attends a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 16, 2012.

Egypt's leading political parties have agreed to select a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure as speaker of the country's newly elected parliament, with another Islamist group and a liberal party taking the deputy posts.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party-led alliance, which secured the biggest bloc in parliamentary elections, proposed its secretary-general, Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, as parliament speaker.

Under Monday's power-sharing agreement, the two deputy speaker posts would go to the hardline Salafist Nour party - runners up in the vote - and the liberal Wafd party, which came in third.

But the head of Egypt's Social Democratic party, Mohamed Abou el Ghar, said if Wafd chooses not to go along with the accord, his leftist group could be allotted the second deputy position. Wafd officials, who said they are not part of the deal, will discuss the issue later this week.

Members of Egypt's newly elected lower house will choose the speaker and his two deputies when they meet for the first time January 23, two days before the anniversary of the uprising that swept former president Hosni Mubarak from power last year.

The assembly's main task is to pick a 100-person commission to write a new constitution. El-Katatni's selection shows the power of the Islamists to influence that process.

Freedom and Justice is projected to control more than 45 percent of the parliament's seats. The Nour party won another 25 percent, but the two groups are not seen as likely to join forces on many issues because of their different views on the role of Islam in Egyptian society.

The ultraconservative Nour advocates the strict application of Sharia, or Islamic law, while the FJP insists it wants an inclusive government and a constitution that represents all Egyptians.

The powers of the lower house are still not clear and will be detailed in the new constitution.  An interim charter that transferred Mr. Mubarak's powers to the head of the ruling military council does not allow the People's Assembly to form a government or request a vote of no confidence.

On Monday, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch urged the new parliament to reform laws used to curtail freedoms and repress rights.  The group said the assembly's top priority should be to revise laws that limit association and assembly, allow indefinite detention without charge and shield the police force from accountability.

Human Rights Watch said Egypt's transitional political leaders have failed to reform these laws and that the ruling military has relied on them to arrest protesters and journalists and to try more than 12,000 civilians before military courts.

Also Monday, Egypt's top general flew to Libya for talks with its interim leaders on economic and security issues, including his government's failure to extradite backers of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi, who fled to Egypt.

Libyan officials asked Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi to hand over a number of Gadhafi's lieutenants who have been harbored in Egypt since the former leader was overthrown in August last year.

About a dozen protesters forced their way into the Tripoli hotel where the meeting took place, holding up placards demanding Cairo hand over "symbols of the former regime."  It was Tantawi's first major trip abroad as acting head of state.

The talks also focused on cross-border weapons flows and the return of Egyptian laborers to Libya. About 1 million Egyptians were working in oil-rich Libya when the revolution there forced them to flee.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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