- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2012

CAIRO — With Islamists making up the overwhelming majority of its lawmakers, the People’s Assembly elected in Egypt’s first legislative vote after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster nearly a year ago held its inaugural session on Monday.

The convening of the assembly, the lower but more powerful chamber of the bicameral parliament, is a significant benchmark in the timetable for the hand-over of power to a civilian administration by the generals who took over from Mr. Mubarak.

It also is a step forward for Islamists on the road to becoming the strongest political force in the nations that experienced Arab Spring revolts. Islamists dominated elections first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, and Libya’s Islamists are expected to do well in parliamentary voting later this year.

The Egyptian assembly’s top priority is to elect a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, which will have to be put to a vote in a referendum.

The next major step in the transition will be presidential elections, scheduled to be held before the end of June, when the generals are due to step down.

“The era of political exclusion is over,” said Saad el-Katatni, an Islamist lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized political group.

Mr. el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Brotherhood’s political arm - the Freedom and Justice Party - was elected as speaker by a vast majority of the 508-seat chamber.

The Brotherhood was banned for most of its 84-year history, legalized only after the 18-day popular uprising in early 2011 that ousted Mr. Mubarak.

The elections, which started on Nov. 28 and ran into January, were the freest in Egypt in decades. Elections for parliament’s upper chamber, a largely toothless body known as the Shura Council, will begin later this month.

The outcome of the elections reflect the strength of the Islamists in Egypt, a mainly Muslim nation of about 85 million people that has grown steadily more religiously conservative over the past 40 years.

The Brotherhood spearheaded the Islamist victory in Egypt, winning just less than half of all the seats.

In second place to the Brotherhood came another Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, with nearly a quarter of the seats.

The liberal and left-leaning groups that organized the anti-Mubarak uprising garnered less than 10 percent of the seats. Many of them were not as well prepared for the vote as the Islamists, particularly the Brotherhood, whose members have acquired a high degree of discipline and loyalty through years of underground work

Several of these lawmakers wore yellow scarves saying, “No to military trials for civilians,” a reference to the hauling of at least 12,000 civilians before military tribunals since the generals took over power in February last year.

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