Egypt upper house picks Islamist as speaker

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CAIRO – Egypt’s Islamist-led upper house of parliament picked a Muslim Brotherhood deputy as its speaker on Tuesday, cementing the group’s dominance in the legislature after elections handed it a majority of seats.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) controls 59 percent of the upper house Shura Council’s seats and around 43 percent of the lower house, the People’s Assembly.

Both chambers convene on Saturday to pick a 100-strong assembly to draft the country’s new constitution.

Ahmed Fahmy, a little-known FJP figure, became upper house speaker. FJP Secretary General Saad el-Katatni was already picked as the lower house speaker.

“I promise to keep the same distance from everyone – no distinction between the majority and the opposition – supporting democratic practice,” said Fahmy after his election.

Members of the Shura Council met for the first time on Tuesday, concluding what was hailed as Egypt’s most democratic parliamentary elections since military officers overthrew the king in 1952.

The parliamentary votes, which began in late November, are the first since a popular uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak last February. His National Democratic Party, which long held a tight grip over both houses of parliament, was disbanded.

The Shura Council is a consultative body that only gives its opinion on issues and draft laws suggested to it by the president and the government. The election to the upper house saw far lower turnout than for the People’s Assembly as many Egyptians believe it matters little.