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Officials have presented the regulation as a vital energy-saving step. Egypt has been plagued by widespread electricity cutoffs, in part because of overburdening on its facilities, just one of multiple breakdowns in the nation’s infrastructure. Moreover, the government is trying to reduce crushing budget deficits as it struggles to revive an economy hard-hit since last year’s revolution — and fuel for power plants is a heavy cost.

Local Development Minister Ahmed Zaki Abdin, a non-Islamist who served as a provincial governor under Mr. Mubarak, said closing up earlier would save the government more than $1 billion a year — though opponents have questioned whether the move would really conserve much energy.

But the move goes beyond economics to try to impose some control over a society in chaos.

“You can’t have people staying up all night in cafes. People should be going to bed early so they can do their work,” Mr. Abdin insisted.

“We can’t just keep on doing whatever we want whenever we want … We’re passing through tough circumstances. We have an economic crisis. We have an energy shortage. We have problems everywhere, strikes, unrest, demands. Can’t anyone make a compromise?” he said in a TV interview this month.

Past governments have made attempts to regulate business hours in hopes of injecting a semblance of order to Cairo. But in the end, they backed down in the face of business opposition and public uproar. Some are convinced Mr. Morsi's government will do the same.

If implemented, the regulation could become an issue in parliamentary elections now expected early next year, as parties try to appeal to small businessmen and their employees angry over the early closing hours.

“This regulation is a huge mistake,” said Ashraf Shaaban, who runs a falafel sandwich shop in Imbaba. “It is against the nature of the Egyptian people. We stay up late. We don’t want a curfew.”

As he quickly whipped up sandwiches for a line of customers, he added: “If men spend their evenings at home rather than at cafes, the population will grow. There will be more babies.”

Morsi is insulting the people!” shouted one of his customers.

* Associated Press correspondents Sarah El Deeb and Lee Keath contributed to this report.