Egypt’s upper house has taken over full legislative powers as the country takes the next step towards what is meant to be a fully democratic system of government. This comes after voters approved a new constitution.
The Shura Council upper house, which convened for its first session on Wednesday, is to hold the legislative powers temporarily, until after an election for a new lower house.
These powers will then be transferred to the lower house and the upper chamber is to play a much less prominent role in legislation. Like the lower chamber, the upper house is also dominated by members of the political wing of President Muhammad Morsi's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
The move comes a day after electoral officials announced the final results of a referendum on the country's new constitution, which was approved by 63.8 percent of voters. President Morsi signed the document into law late on Tuesday.
Morsi and his supporters are hoping to move on from the unrest sparked by the consitution, which the opposition say weakens the state of human rights in the country, particularly with regard to the rights of women and religious minorities.
Following the announcement of the result, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil issued a statement calling on "all political forces to cooperate with the government" to restore Egypt's troubled economy.
The opposition coaltion National Salvation Front has pledged to launch a legal challenge over alleged voting irregularities. However, the head of the electoral commission denied allegations that voting had not been properly supervised by judges. Critics though, also noted that only about one in three eligible voters actually bothered to turn out to the polls.
Little international enthusiasm
The result of the referendum, which had to be held over two rounds due to the refusal of some judges to supervise the voting, was met with less than enthusiastic reactions from the West in particular.
Germany called on President Morsi to work to unite the country following the ratification of the new constitution.
"I call on President Morsi to approach all forces in society and to seek political compromises that involve all Egyptians," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
The German foreign minister also noted that the process of political reform in Egypt was far from complete.
“This is not the end, but just the beginning of the road that can take Egypt to a situation that is truly democratic, pluralistic and conform to the rule of law.“
"President Morsi... has a special responsibility to move forward in a way that recognises the urgent need to bridge divisions, build trust, and broaden support for the political process," the acting spokesman for the US State Department, Patrick Ventrell said.
pfd/ipj (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)