Egyptian military hands legislative power to parliament amid protests

Egypt’s Cabinet says the military rulership has handed legislative powers to the country’s new lower house of parliament, which held its first session on Monday. But as the new deputies are sworn in, the capital is bracing for fresh protests.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has announced in a letter to the People’s Assembly the transfer of legislative power to the assembly,” the government said on its Facebook page.

The Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly started its inaugural session in Cairo with prayers for martyrs of the Egyptian revolution.

Several independent and liberal lawmakers turned up for the first session in yellow scarves reading “No to military trials for civilians,” reports the Associated Press. It was a reference to over 12,000 people who have been subject to military tribunals since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over from Hosni Mubarak’s administration almost a year ago.

The same message was taken to the square in front of the parliament by hundreds of activists calling for the military to be held accountable for crimes committed during their rule. Artists, trade unions and families of protesters killed in the 2011 Egyptian revolt demanded the Supreme Council step down on January 25, the first anniversary of the start of the popular uprising. The protest is expected to continue into the night.

Back in the Assembly, the inaugural session was temporarily chaired by Mahmoud el-Saqqah of the liberal Wafd Party who, at the age of 81, is the oldest deputy in the house. On Monday, the parliamentarians were to appoint their speaker and two deputies to the Shura Council, the upper chamber of the parliament, which will be elected in February.

The Assembly’s speaker is expected to come from the majority Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak’s regime, now holds 47 per cent of seats in the lower house. Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, the FJP’s secretary-general, was put forward as the speaker nominee.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it wants to be inclusive and ensure all voices in Egypt are heard. But fears are condensing that the Brotherhood only supported the anti-Mubarak campaign to grasp power. To many, the incumbent military rulers are the old regime’s voices. That has given many Egyptians grounds to slam the deepening ties between the generals on the one hand, and the Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafists, who claimed 23 per cent of Assembly seats, on the other.

While Islamists won a total of over two thirds in Egypt’s Assembly, an Islamist coalition in the parliament has not yet sprung into life. Experts believe that before the Middle Eastern country goes to the presidential polls in June, it is premature to speak of an Egypt being swallowed by fundamentalist Islam.

One of the first tasks before the new parliament is to choose a panel which will write a new constitution. This is a crucial step in the process of passing political authority in Egypt into civilian hands. The military council, headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, says it will only step down for a new president.

­RT talked to Ahmed Salah, political activist from Egypt, who believes the protesters won’t rest until they get the kind of leadership they demand. He also says the regime of Hosni Mubarak is still alive.

“We intend to launch another wave of the revolution,” he said. “We are starting again the rallies. We are starting again the protests in various parts of the country.”

Salah says the violence continues in the streets of Cairo, reporting that just in last 24 hours two activists from his movement were killed.