Islamist MPs took centre stage on Monday as Egypt's Parliament met for the first time since a popular uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak, while their supporters massed outside to cheer the historic event.

A year after the uprising, many Egyptians see Parliament as the first sign of democratic rule, in sharp contrast to the previous legislature dominated by Mr. Mubarak's party.

Egypt's first free parliamentary elections, which were held in phases between November and early January, saw Islamists clinch nearly three-quarters of the seats.

Outside the People's Assembly, hundreds of Islamist supporters had greeted the MPs as they entered Parliament, in scenes unimaginable just a year ago when most Islamist movements were banned.

And in their first act, the deputies in the Lower House began voting for a Speaker.

But the exact role of Parliament remains unclear, with power remaining in the hands of the generals who took power from the former President, Mr. Mubarak.

“How can we read this oath when we don't even know if we will be a presidential system or a parliamentary system?” one MP asked during the swearing in.

Later, protesters set off for Parliament from across Cairo to press deputies to implement the goals of the revolution, including an end to military trials of civilians, social justice and the trial of officials found guilty of abuse.

They were to join hundreds who were already raising slogans outside Parliament against the ruling military council and its chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who served as Mr. Mubarak's Defence Minister for two decades. The military has come under intense criticism in recent months for rights abuses and stifling dissent.

Activists accuse the generals of seeking to maintain political control despite assurances by the army that it will cede power to civilian rule when a president is elected in June. The packed and sometimes chaotic first session was chaired by Parliament's most senior member, Mahmud al-Saqqa of the liberal Wafd Party.

The long-banned Muslim Brotherhood won a crushing victory with 47.18 per cent through its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

The ultra-conservative Salafist Al-Nur party came second with 24.29 per cent, with the liberal Wafd Party finishing a distant third.

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