Chronicles of day 1 of Egypt's historic post-Mubarak People's Assembly

Ahram Online , Monday 23 Jan 2012

Egypt's newly elected People's Assembly got into gear; Brotherhood crowned in Parliament; protesters organised marches to voice their demands to MPs

(Photo: Mai Shaheen)

17:58 Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, former secretary of the Freedom and Justice Party has been officially voted as speaker for the People's Assembly, winning 399 votes from his fellow MPs. In second place was Essam Sultan of Al-Wasat Party, who took 87 votes.

16:00 Security forces have banned film director Khaled Youssef from entering the parliament building until the voting session for parliamentary speaker is concluded. Representing the Front to Defend Creative Freedoms, Youssef hopes to present the group’s demands to the People’s Assembly.

Presently, several political groups are protesting outside the parliament building. These groups include the April 6 Youth Movement, Youth for Freedom and Justice and the Democratic Front for Peaceful Change.  

15:45 The voting process for the speaker post is still underway. Following the vote count, a new speaker –  who many believe will be brotherhood member Saad El-Katatni – will be announced, and the Assembly's first session will begin its third and final meeting of the day, in which MPs will nominate and vote on two deputies to the speaker.

15:25 Protesters in El-Falaki Street begin to chant: “The revolutionaries are hitting the streets on 25 January.” Our correspondent reports that protesters have begun giving up on their goal of reaching the parliament building as all roads have been barricaded and a heavy security presence has blanketed the area.

Further down El-Falaki Street, a supporter of the Salafist Nour Party berated an Ahram Online female reporter, Randa Ali, when she tried to get quotes from him. “Wear niqab [face veil] before talking to me,” he chided. Another Al-Nour supporter was also reluctant to talk to her, before saying: “We are here to protect the parliamentarians and the parliament building.”

15:00 An argument erupted between two groups in the Assembly – one headed by Wasat Party leader Essam Sultan and the other by FJP members and independents – after Sultan demanded a two minute introductory speech for every candidate vying for the post of speak of the People’s Assembly.

The head of the session refused the demand saying that the Assembly’s code does not allow this.

A small quarrel ensued as FJP members argued for strictly keeping with the law. At the end the parliament speaker announced that he will give every candidate 1 minute.

As speakers introduced themselves, El Katatni, the FJP’s former secretary-general, refused to introduce himself saying that he will not break the parliamentary procedure, while Magdi Sabri offered his minute to Essam Sultan. The latter's speech was interrupted by El-Sakka, the session's chair, who announced the names of the MPs who will supervise electing the new speaker. The group will be headed by prominent reformist judge Mahmoud El-Khoudairy.

14:46 From Simon Bolivar Square, protesters marching for freedom of artistic creativity and against military trials have merged, and together, they have taken a detour on their way to the parliament building, according our correspondent.

Marchers are chanting “Creativity, freedom and social justice” and “Don't be afraid; say that the [military] council must leave.”

14:40 In El-Falaki Street, some protesters chant: “This is the revolution of the youth, not the revolution of the Muslim Brotherhood’s guidance bureau,” and “a revolution against the Brotherhood”. Others, however, are trying to persuade the anti-Brotherhood demonstrators not to chant against the Assembly’s dominant party in order for tensions not to escalate.

Ahram Online’s reporter also reports that demonstrators with drums are singing songs against lawyer Farid El-Deeb, who is defending toppled president Hosni Mubarak in his trial. The demonstrators also chanted revolutionary slogans.

Last night, El-Deeb said Mubarak, from a legal standpoint, is still the president of Egypt.

14:35 The march held by the relatives of the uprising’s casualties have merged with the trade unionist march, as both groups make a united call for social equality. The relatives of the casualties are wearing masks of iconic revolutionaries who were killed. Some, according to our correspondent, wore masks in the likeness of Khaled Said, Mina Danial and Emad Effat as they marched toward the parliament building from El-Falaki Street.

14:28 Another march consisting of around 200 protesters, which kicked off from Omar Makram Mosque, is also heading toward the parliament building, calling on ruling SCAF to hand over power to a civilian administration on 25 January, which marks the first anniversary of the popular uprising.

According to our reporter, the majority of the activists have no political affiliations. However, Kamal Khalil, one of the co-founders of the Popular Democratic Movement for Change, is leading the chants against the ruling SCAF.

14:22 El-Katatni has officially announced his intention to run for the speaker's post. His words are met with applause. The other three candidates for the position are Youssef El-Badri, Magdi Sabri and Essam Sultan, as announced by the session's chair, El-Sakka.

14:20 Four marches (military trials, freedom of creativity, relatives of the slain protesters and trade unionists) have all converged in El-Falaki Street. They, however, cannot reach the parliament building due to barbed wire barricades at the entrance of the street and the heavy presence of CSF, according to your reporter in the field.

Meanwhile, our correspondent reports hundreds of FJP supporters are holding a vigil in El-Falaki Street, bearing signs supporting parliament’s legitimacy.

14:10 The final oath is taken, and El-Sakka takes the reins again, as the first meeting draws to a close. In reponse to the many Islamistswho add phrases to their oaths, such as “so far as the law does not conflict with God’s law,” El-Sakka announced following the swearing-in that all added phrases will be omitted from the minutes of the session. He has also taken the time to explain the insignificance of those phrases.  

14:02 Ziad Bahaa El-Din, member of the Social Democratic Party, receives a round of applause as he takes the parliamentary oath. Bahaa El-Din is nominated to head his party’s bloc.  

13:53 Tens of protesters, who claim no party or political affiliation, are gathering in Tahrir Square, holding placards that spell out their objections to the Islamist majority in the People’s Assembly. “The Sheikhs’ Assembly, formally the People’s Assembly,” was one such slogan.

Meanwhile, the march protesting the continued extrajudicial trials of civilians in military courts has arrived in Tahrir Square.

In the parliamentary chambers, Amin Iskander, a leading figure in the Karama Party, arrives late and takes his oath.

13:45 An Ahram Online reporter estimates the artists' march to have swelled to a couple of thousand. 

13:35 A group of MPs applaud as Saad El-Katatni, former secretary-general FJP,  took the parlimentary oath. The FJP has nominated El-Katatni for the position of speaker of the People’s Assembly.

13:30 Reports have come in clarifying the nature of the brief exodus from the chambers. At 12:05 a number of Nour Party MPs headed by Mamdouh Ismail – representing the Salafist Asala (Authenticity) Party – left the Assembly’s chambers for midday prayers as the first session crept forward.

Moreover, some Nour MPs stated, while being issued their parliamentary membership cards, that they would demand the adjournment of parliamentary sessions during the five scheduled prayers.

13:22 A host of big screen stars have gathered at the Opera House, around two kilometres away from Tahrir Square, to prepare for a march supporting the freedom of artistic creativity. Among the protesters, estimated at 300, are actors Aser Yassin, Dalia El-Beheri and Esaad Youness as well as highly acclaimed director Khaled Youssef. Our correspondents report this to be the largest march thus far.

13:15 Mostafa El-Guindy, a member of the Revolution Continues coalition and former member Wafd Party member, is also a no show. The reason at present is unclear. 

13:02 Relatives of slain protesters numbering in the tens have gathered in Abdel Moniem Ryad Square in anticipation of a march that will converge on the parliament building. The mother of Mohamed Mostafa – a 20-year-old protester killed on 28 January – told Ahram Online that they intend to hand their demands to the newly elected MPs and ask them to speed up the trials of those responsible for protester deaths. This will be one of five such marches.

12:55 Hundreds of protesters have gathered in front of the High Court in downtown Cairo to protest the military trials of civilians.  According to activist Nour Ayman Nour, son of politician Ayman Nour, the demonstrators will soon march on Tahrir Square.  

12:50 Several MPs have left the chambers. It is thought that they have left to perform the midday prayers. 

12:45 Tens of trade unionists are set to begin marching along Qasr El-Aini Street, adjacent to the parliament building. They are currently gathering in front of the offices of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).

Labour lawyer and Revolutionary Socialists member Haitham Mohamedein is among those gathered calling for readjusted minimum and maximum wages, permanent contracts for temporary contract workers and the cancellation of the SCAF law penalising sit-ins and demonstrations.

12:30 As the opening session dots the i's and crosses the t's, toppled president Hosni Mubarak is confined to a cage as his trial concurrently resumes at the Police Academy. In a pre-18-days uprising scenario, Mubarak would likely have attended this session.

Fathi Serour, the former speaker of parliament, is also detained on accusations of corruption. Former FJP secretary-general Saad El-Katatni is widely expected to be elected for the very same position later this afternoon.

12:24 We're hearing a range of oath recitations this afternoon, as MPs vary their inflections and affectations. This would make for an interesting linguistic study. 

12:15 Our correspondent at the parliament building reports that a man named Khaled Mubarak, who claimed to have been shot in the knee during November’s Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, is among those who are standing before the parliament building. Mubarak, who has yet to extract the bullet, is calling for medical treatment as well as bringing Tantawi – in his capacity as defence minister – and former interior minister Mansour El-Essawy to justice.

12:10 Amin Iskander, a veteran leader of the Karama Party and MP is absent from this first session, for reasons as yet unknown. 

11:58 Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the parliament building chanted the revolution’s tripartite motto: "Bread, freedom and social justice." Meanwhile, security forces are attempting to prevent marchers from approaching the complex to prevent their revolutionary demands to the newly elected MPs.

11:50 Ziad El-Eleimi, a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a leading member of the Revolution’s Youth Coalition (RYC), vowed to ensure the fulfilment of revolutionary demands and defend the “blood of the martyrs” before taking the standard oath. His words were met with applause.

11:45 Our man on the grounds reports hundreds of protesters – among them members and supporters of the FJP and the Salafist Nour Party – rallying in front of the parliament’s offices.

Others are calling for the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman who is currently held in US facilities.

The Chains of the Revolution campaign listed their demands on small-sized flags and formed a large circle in front of Parliament building. Among these demands were parliamentary oversight of the government, the cleansing of the country from corruption and improving media and education. Some flags read “Down with military rule.”

11:35 Several MPs have donned yellow sashes with the slogan "No to military trials," in a sign of protest against the ruling SCAF's policy of summarily trying civilians in military courts.

11:32 Parliamentarian Mamdouh Ismail, representing the Salafist Asala (Authenticity) Party ended 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 it's entirety, tacking on the latter statement in a postscript as a "personal opinion." 

Ismail’s deviation, however, has become a trend in this long oath-taking process, as other parliamentarians have added snippets of religious or revolutionary rhetoric to their oaths. El-Sakka – in what looks to be his one day of infamy – is clearly put off by these embellishments.

11:22 MPs are beginning to take their oaths, one by one. That's 508 oaths we have ahead of us. 

11:20 Parliamentarians stand to applaud the ruling junta's role in the transition process, but a number of MPs, including independents, refused to take part. 

11:10 An Ahram Online correspondent reports that Central Security Forces are using barbed wire to block certain streets that lead to the parliament’s offices and connect it to the heavily barricaded Ministry of Interior.

In the nearby neighbourhood of Garden City – home to the US and British embassies, security personnel are asking pedestrians to show their IDs and state their destinations.

11:00 The first session has just kicked off with the oldest MP (in accordance with parliamentary regulations) – the Wafdist and constitutional law expert Mahmoud El-Sakka –  calling for a moments of silence as an expression of respect for the victims of the January 25 Revolution. The 81 years old El-Sakka continued to read off the SCAF decrees.

10:50 Abou El-Ezz El-Hariri, a Socialist Popular Alliance Party MP and head of the Revolution Continues bloc in the Assembly, speaking to Egyptian television, stated that his first objective will be to fight corruption and that his first demand would be to open the files of the International Arab Bank, accused of illegal cash transfers out of the Arab world. For his part, Saad El-Katatini, former secretary-general of the FJP and front runner for the post of Assembly speaker, stated that the first order of business would seeing to the rights of the revolution's martyrs and injured. 

10:40 Egypt’s newly elected 508-member People’s Assembly – the lower house of parliament – will begin procedural meetings at 11 o’clock. The Assembly will hold three meetings today. The first will begin with three decrees issued by de-facto leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and end with parliamentarians taking their constitutional oaths. The second and third meeting will see the election of a speaker and two deputies, respectively.  

Elections for the Assembly began in late November stretching over three staggered stages till mid January. As of this morning, there is still disagreement in the national press about the distribution of seats in the legislative body. Nevertheless it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, does not have a simple majority.

The People’s Assembly, which many observers claim to be the cleanest and most democratic elections since the 1950s, will be responsible along with the Shura Council for appointing a constituent assembly that will draft Egypt’s new constitution.  

Tantawi, chairman of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is not expected to attend the meeting, as parliamentary protocol dictates that the chief executive only attend the joint session of parliament’s two houses – the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council – to deliver an opening speech. Interim Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri, however, will attend to fulfill his procedural duties of encouraging cooperation between parliament and government and to explain his efforts at improving economic conditions and implementing the demands of Egypt’s revolutionaries.

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