CAIRO — Egypt’s government announced the end of a 3-month-old state of emergency today, 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.
Morsi, who has been in detention since his July 3 ouster by the military, had his first extensive meeting with lawyers today, 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. Morsi is so far refusing 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, Morsi gave the lawyers a “statement to the nation and the Egyptian people,” said Morsi’s son, Osama, a lawyer who was among those who met him, according to the Muslim Brotherhood’s website. He 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, announcing 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 was initially announced for a month on Aug. 14. But the government renewed it for another two months on Sept. 12. The court today 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 today.
The state of emergency gave security forces wide powers of arrest. It was imposed after police broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps in 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 have mostly waned and have been reduced to small gatherings concentrated inside universities. On Tuesdsay, 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.
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 to him briefly during the trial, held in a police academy in eastern Cairo. They held their first extended meeting with him today in the prison.
Lawyers on the team had told local media that they will seek to convince Morsi to accept the defense team, and that it would not undercut his challenge to the trial’s legitimacy.
Osama Morsi told The Associated Press that his father still had not agreed to let attorneys represent him.
“He wants to take legal actions ... against others, not to defend himself,” he said before going into the meeting with his father and four other lawyers.
In the opening session of his trial, Morsi called the process illegitimate, saying the panel of judges didn’t have jurisdiction to try a president. He repeatedly insisted he remains the country’s leader and called his trial a “cover for a military coup.”
The trial as adjourned to Jan. 8. At the next session, Morsi is expected to tell the court whether he will accept the defense team assembled by the Muslim Brotherhood to represent the ousted president and his co-defendants.
Morsi and 14 co-defendants — seven of whom are still at large — are charged with inciting the killing of protesters who massed outside the presidential palace in December 2012 and demanded that he call off a referendum on a new Islamist-drafted constitution. Brotherhood members and supporters attacked a sit-in by the protesters, sparking clashes that left 10 people dead.
Morsi and the others are also accused of inciting Brotherhood supporters to illegally hold and abuse opponents in a makeshift detention center outside the palace.
The 62-year-old ousted president is facing other accusations, including an ongoing investigation into his escape from prison with other Brotherhood leaders during the 2011 uprising against his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. His detention in that case was renewed for 30 days Monday pending investigation.
Osama Morsi said his father continues to refuse to cooperate with his interrogators.