CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's government announced the end of a 3-month-old state of emergency Tuesday, two days earlier than planned, after a court ruled that the measure has expired.
Ending the state of emergency would mean the end of a nighttime curfew also in place since mid-August, measures aimed at helping authorities impose control amid protests by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Security officials have shown concern that its end could add fuel to the protests.
Mr. Morsi, who has been in detention since his July 3 ouster by the military, had his first extensive meeting with lawyers on Tuesday, consulting in prison with a team from his Muslim Brotherhood and allies on his ongoing trial on charges of inciting murder, which began last week. Mr. Morsi is refusing so far to allow the team to represent him, saying he remains the elected president and refuses to recognize the tribunal against him following what he and his supporters call an illegal coup.
During the meeting, Mr. Morsi gave the lawyers a “statement to the nation and the Egyptian people,” said Mr. Morsi’s son, Osama, a lawyer who was among those who met with him, according to the Muslim Brotherhood’s website. The younger Mr. Morsi said the statement was addressed to “the various movements, factions and sects” of the Egyptian people.
The lawyers planned a press conference for Wednesday, when it appeared the statement would be released.
The court ruling on ending the state of emergency appeared to have caught the government off guard. Only a day earlier, Interior Minister Mahmoud Ibrahim had said it would be lifted on Thursday and announced that security reinforcements would deploy in the streets at that time — a sign of the worries over intensified protests.
The confusion came because the state of emergency initially was announced for a month on Aug. 14, but the government renewed it for another two months on Sept. 12. The court on Tuesday said that means it ends on Nov. 12, not Nov. 14.
The Cabinet put out a statement saying it will abide by the ruling, though it said it will wait for the court to issue the verdict in writing. It was not clear what would happen if that did not happen on Tuesday.
The state of emergency gave security forces wide powers of arrest. It was imposed after police broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps in a heavy crackdown that left hundreds of protesters dead. The country has seen persistent violence since, including further bloody crackdowns on protests, retaliatory violence blamed on Islamists, and a wave of attacks on security forces and the military by Islamic militants, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula.
Under the crackdown, protests mostly have waned and been reduced to small gatherings concentrated inside universities. On Tuesday, police forces entered Mansoura University in the Nile Delta after clashes erupted on the campus between Morsi supporters and other students.
Fearing return of mass demonstrations, the military-backed interim government is working on a controversial new law that would restrict the right to protest by forcing organizers to seek a permit to hold any gathering — something authorities can deny if they see it threatening public order. Violators risk jail terms and heavy fines.
Presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi said a final draft of the law has been sent to the presidency and will be passed shortly.
Mr. Morsi was held in a secret location by the military after his ouster and had no access to lawyers. It was only after the Nov. 4 opening of his trial — his first public appearance since the coup — that he was transferred to a regular prison, near the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.
The Brotherhood defense lawyers spoke with him briefly during the trial, held in a police academy in eastern Cairo. They held their first extended meeting with him Tuesday in the prison.
Lawyers on the team previously told local media that they will seek to persuade Mr. Morsi to accept the defense team and that it would not undercut his challenge to the trial’s legitimacy.