"We will never betray our martyrs’ blood," began Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, the newly-elected speaker of the People's Assembly in his opening speech, following the announcement that he had won the post.
"We will not rest until the revolution achieves all of its goals."
El-Katatni swept the votes for the position, securing 399 out of 503 votes.
A round of applause was heard in the parliamentary chamber when El-Katatni thanked the Egyptian army and the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) for organising the parliamentary elections, which saw, according to El-Katatni, "minimal violations."
El-Katatni, former Secretary General of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was the official candidate nominated by the party for the position, days before the scheduled inaugural session of the lower house of the Egyptian parliament.
With a heavy security presence outside parliamentary headquarters, the People’s Assembly’s opening session started on Sunday morning at 11am. In accordance with parliamentary regulations, the oldest MP – Wafdist and constitutional law expert Mahmoud El-Sakka – served as the chair for the inaugural session. El-Sakka began by calling for a moment of silence as an expression of respect for the victims of the January 25 Revolution.
Before proceeding with oath-swearing, parliamentarians stood up to applaud the ruling military council’s role in the transition process; but a number of MPs, including independents, refused to take part.
After oath-taking, the chamber lost order when it was time for nominations for the position of speaker. Essam Sultan, one of four candidates who nominated themselves for the post of speaker, insisted that each of the nominees be granted two minutes to make a nomination speech to the members.
Sultan’s request led to a brawl inside the chamber, as his suggestion was opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s nominee, El-Katatni, and his supporters, who argued that a nomination speech is not part of the lower house legislative regulation. El-Sakka, unable to control the noise, opted to propose a vote on whether or not the nominees be granted their speeches, but Sultan and several other MPs rejected the suggestion on grounds that the majority should not restrict the nominees’ rights to present themselves.
Eventually, the FJP lost their fight, and El-Sakka allowed each nominee one minute to give a brief nomination speech.
Other than El-Katatni and Sultan, Youssef El-Badri and Magdi Sabri also nominated themselves for the post, but Sabri later waived his nomination to support Sultan.
The first session also saw other quarrels. During oath-swearing, Mamdouh Ismail, representing the Salafist Asala Party, qualified his oath with, "if not in contradiction with God's doctrine," to which the session’s chair, El-Sakka, objected. Following a brief disturbance in the session, Ismail eventually repeated the oath in its entirety, tacking on the statement in a postscript as a "personal opinion."
Ismail’s deviation, however, was repeated several times in the long oath-taking process, as other parliamentarians added snippets of religious or revolutionary rhetoric to their oaths, to El-Sakka’s discomfort. Microphone sounds were then cut off right after the end of the oath, which some MPs went around by adding their extra lines before beginning to read their oaths.
Several MPs wore yellow sashes bearing the slogan "No to military trials" during the session, in a sign of protest against the ruling SCAF's policy of summarily trying civilians in military courts.
Outside the parliamentary chamber, four different marches merged on the parliamentary building to make various statements. Artists, workers, injured protesters, relatives of slain protesters and campaigners marched to the People’s Assembly headquarters to stress their demands and to reiterate the purposes of the revolution. The marches, however, could not reach the headquarters due to barbed wire barricades at the entrance of the street and the heavy presence of Central Security Forces.
In addition, dozens of protesters who claimed no party or political affiliation gathered in Tahrir Square, holding placards that spelled out their objections to the Islamist majority in the People’s Assembly. One of the slogans read: “The Sheikhs’ Assembly, formerly the People’s Assembly.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of FJP supporters held a vigil in Falaki Street, bearing signs supporting the parliament’s legitimacy.