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Middle East
3:31 pm
Mon January 23, 2012

In Egypt, Islamists Take Control Of A New Parliament

Egypt's Islamists formalized their new stature on Monday as the first freely elected parliament in six decades held its inaugural session in Cairo.

The session was broadcast live on Egyptian state television and was largely spent swearing in the 508 members, most of whom belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-conservative Salafist movement.

But outside the parliament, not everyone was celebrating.

Even before the lawmakers could get down to business, many among the hundreds of Egyptians gathered outside parliament made it clear they expected a lot from the new assembly.

There were demands for higher wages. There were cries for justice for the many hundreds of protesters killed by police and soldiers. And there were warnings to Islamist lawmakers not to oppress Egyptians as the previous regime had.

That prompted arguments and scuffles with some pro-Islamist demonstrators, who had come to cheer their new legislators.

One of those celebrating was Mohammed Salama, a 30-year-old English teacher from the northern town of Mansoura, who proudly flashed his Freedom and Justice Party membership card.

The party grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls nearly half the seats in the new parliament. Its secretary general was elected speaker.

But Salama says that doesn't mean the Brotherhood should dominate the parliamentary agenda, which includes appointing a panel to draft Egypt's new constitution.

"I think all the Egyptian members of the parliament should unite together for the development of Egypt," he says.

Islamist Supporters Want Change

Nevertheless, many supporters of the Islamists are demanding that parliament change Egyptian law to reflect the conservative religious values of the majority.

One such person is 57-year-old Mervat Moharam. She says lawmakers must revise current family law to reflect Islamic norms, like giving fathers greater custody rights and lowering the age when girls can marry.

One Salafist supporter, Mohammed Yousef, predicts the Islamist-dominated parliament won't go far enough to make Islamic law, or Shariah, the law of the land:

"We have previous experiences with similar parliaments in other parts of the world. None of those councils managed to institute Shariah into ... day-to-day life. None of them," he says.

That sort of talk worries protester Dua el- Keshef, a 19-year-old Cairo University student. Like many of her generation, she fears that the Islamists will ultimately try to silence the youth movement that spearheaded last January's revolution.

She argues this parliament is no different than ones under former President Hosni Mubarak, where one faction ended up making all the decisions.

Keshef adds the revolution has failed to deliver the freedom Egyptians deserve.

That message is one many protesters are expected to take to the streets in Cairo and across Egypt on Wednesday — the first anniversary of the revolution that ousted Mubarak and swept the Islamists to power.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.