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Islamist MPs take the reins in Cairo

    Lawmakers embrace in Parliament on Monday
    Lawmakers embrace in Parliament on Monday

    The new, democratically elected Egyptian Parliament convened for the first time on Monday. Seventy per cent of the MPs are members of Islamist parties.

    But disputes were already apparent at the swearing-in ceremony of the 508 MPs. Many of the Islamists added statements of allegiance to Islam to their oaths, while some members of liberal parties referred to the ethos of the revolution.

    It is still unclear when the new parliament will get around to forming a coalition and a government. Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, the largest in the parliament with 235 seats, have made it clear that they intend to form a wide coalition and not just link up with their rival, the Salafist-Islamist party Al-Nour, which is the second largest.

    The new parliament's first task will be to appoint a 100-member council to draw up a constitution. The main sticking point will be the future role of the army and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which currently holds power.

    Representatives of the Brotherhood have assured Western diplomats in recent weeks that they will not cancel Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

    But while Mohammed Badie, chairman of the Brotherhood, said in an interview last week that Egypt would abide by the treaty, he added that all the country's international agreements "will be examined".

    Mr Badie's deputy, Dr Rashad Bayoumi, said two weeks ago: "We will not recognise Israel under any circumstances; we are talking about an occupation entity and a criminal enemy."

    "We have to prepare ourselves for drastic changes on the Egyptian border," said one senior Israeli defence official, "but we don't believe there is need for immediate concern. Egypt's first priority is stabilising its economy. The Muslim Brotherhood know that."

    The main concern within defence circles in Israel that Egypt is becoming a "home-base" for Hamas.

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