Egypt: Political change is in the air as new Chair of upper house elected

Election in key position helps Muslim Brotherhood consolidate influence ahead of new constitution and presidential elections.


Ahmed Fahmi, a member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has been elected as Chairman of the Shura Council, winning by acclamation in a ceremony during its inaugural session on Tuesday, reports.

The Shura Council is the upper house in Egypt’s parliamentary system, and advises on legislation proposed by the executive. Fahmi’s election means that the FJP now controls an outright majority in the upper house. It also occupies around 40% of the seats in the People’s Assembly, Egypt’s lower house.

Mr Fahmi pledged to maintain political balance, and was quoted as saying: “I promise to keep the same distance from everyone – no distinction between the majority and the opposition – supporting democratic practice.”

Egypt’s parliament will now begin the process of drafting a new constitution, which will be put to a referendum ahead of a presidential election due to take place in June. The interim ruling military council – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has stated it will hand power back to elected representatives once this election has taken place.

According to rules set by a referendum last year, the new president will serve for four years and be able to serve two consecutive terms. Only Egyptian nationals born to Egyptian parents and who do not hold dual citizenship can qualify for candidacy, according to the new election law issued in mid-January.

Hopefuls must be endorsed by at least 30 members of parliament or 30,000 eligible voters. They must have completed their military service and will not qualify if married to a foreign citizen. Parties represented in parliament can nominate one candidate for the election which will take place over one day.

The SCAF, headed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, had been under pressure to bring forward the election date to May. There is a widespread belief that the SCAF will attempt to retain some sort of power after the transition.

Frontrunners in the presidential race include former Arab League chief Amr Mussa, a veteran Egyptian diplomat who was Foreign Minister under Mubarak, as well as Abdel Moneim Abul Fotuh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nobel Prize laureate and ex-head of the UN atomic watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei decided to drop out of the race, complaining of a lack of democracy in Egypt.

Other candidates include Ahmad Shafiq, the last Prime Minister to serve under Mubarak, as well as Salafist leader Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, Nasserite head Hamdeen Sabahi and Islamist independent figure Salim al-Awwa.

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