CAIRO – Egypt’s first legislature in more than three years, a 596-seat chamber packed with supporters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, held its inaugural session Sunday, signaling the completion of a political road map first announced in 2013.
The assembly, elected in November and December, is the first elected chamber since el-Sissi, as military chief, led the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 following massive protests against the Islamist leader and his Muslim Brotherhood. The new parliament replaces one dominated by Islamists that was dissolved by a court ruling in June 2012.
The new chamber’s first task will be to ratify some 300 presidential decrees issued by el-Sissi since he took office in June 2014 and interim President Adly Mansour before him. Under the Egyptian constitution, these decrees must be ratified within 15 days starting from the date of the inaugural session. Failure to do so will result in the automatic repeal of these laws.
The decrees include a law severely restricting street demonstrations and a terrorism law that curbs press freedoms and gives police vast powers.
Sunday’s session was mostly a procedural one, with lawmakers taking the oath in turn. The chamber is also expected to elect a speaker and two deputies. Some of the lawmakers, in a show of patriotism, held red, black and white Egyptian flags as they took the oath.
After Morsi’s overthrow, el-Sissi announced three steps to take Egypt back to democratic rule: The adoption of a new constitution and presidential and parliamentary elections.
But the process has unfolded against the backdrop of a harsh crackdown on Islamists and other dissidents that has seen thousands jailed.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which swept every election following the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, is officially branded a terrorist group.
Turnout for last year’s parliamentary elections was around 30 percent, and most of those elected to the assembly support the president.
Egypt is grappling with an increasingly potent Islamist insurgency centered in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, which claimed the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai in October that killed all 224 people on board and led to widespread flight cancellations, dealing a major blow to the vital tourism industry.
Egypt’s economy is barely staying afloat, with its local currency under pressure, tourism battered from years of turmoil and inflation at nearly 11 percent.