Islamist elected speaker of Egypt's upper house

image captionThe legislative elections were the first since the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak

Egypt's upper house of parliament has chosen an Islamist as its speaker, consolidating the Muslim Brotherhood's control of the country's legislature.

Ahmed Fahmi, a little-known member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was elected during the Shura Council's inaugural session.

The FJP now controls 59% of the seats in the Shura Council and 43% in the lower house, the People's Assembly.

They will select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution on Saturday.

Oaths amended

The elections for the two chambers, which began in late November, were the first since an uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down. They were hailed as the most democratic polls since the 1952 coup.

The Shura Council is a consultative body that only gives its opinion on issues and draft laws suggested by the president and the government.

As happened when the People's Assembly held its first session in January, Salafists made impromptu additions to the text of the oath. It with a pledge to respect the constitution and law, but several added "God's law" or "as long as there are no contradictions with God's law".

After his election, Mr Fahmi told the chamber: "I promise to keep the same distance from everyone - no distinction between the majority and the opposition - supporting democratic practice."

He also praised the ruling military council, which assumed the president's powers last February, saying it had supported the uprising and had since served as a "sword and shield to protect and defend the nation".

The generals have been accused of ordering security forces to kill, imprison and torture those demanding a return to civilian rule, and criticised heavily for using military tribunals to try thousands of civilians.

Mr Fahmi's two deputy speaker positions went to members of the parties that came second and third in the Shura Council elections - the ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour party and the liberal New Wafd party.

The FJP holds just under half of the seats in the 508-seat lower house and 106 of the upper house's 180 elected seats. Another 90 members will be named either by the ruling generals or the next president.

The priority of the two chambers is to select a panel to draft a new constitution that will be put to a referendum before a presidential election due in June, when the ruling generals have said they will step down.

Liberals fear the Muslim Brotherhood and the generals will find a way to share power.

They believe the military may be allowed to maintain its privileges and perhaps be given a veto of a foreign and defence policy, while the Brotherhood may secure greater control over Egyptian society.