Egyptian authorities acted to end a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday, a step that may help the army-backed government restore a semblance of normalcy after turmoil ignited by the military overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi.
But as the authorities moved to cancel the exceptional powers, the government edged a step closer to passing a law regarded by activists and human rights groups as a threat to the right to protest.
The government imposed the emergency and nightly curfews on Aug. 14, when security forces forcibly dispersed two Cairo sit-ins by Morsi supporters, touching off the worst bout of domestic bloodshed in Egypt's modern history.
A court ruled the state of emergency had ended at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, two days earlier than expected. The government said in a statement it was committed to implementing the court ruling and was awaiting a copy of the decision to execute it.
It would mean an end to nightly curfews that have choked economic life, although state media said the army had not received instructions to lift the curfew. It now stretches from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., apart from Fridays, when it begins at 7 p.m.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood says the state of emergency has given extra legal cover to a crackdown on the movement: the security forces have killed hundreds of Morsi's supporters and arrested thousands more since his July 3 downfall.
Some 250 members of the security forces have been killed in militant attacks since then, most of them in the lawless Sinai Peninsula where security sources said an officer was killed in an attack on a police station on Tuesday.
The army-installed administration led by President Adly Mansour says it wants to restore stability as it seeks to revive an economy pummeled in upheaval since the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the military, enjoys popular support among many Egyptians although his critics fear the new government aims to revive the autocratic ways of the Mubarak era.
The state of emergency and curfew had been due to last a month from Aug. 14, but the government extended it for two more months on Sept. 12.
Underscoring tensions in the Arab world's largest nation, supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood clashed with security forces at two universities north of Cairo in the Nile Delta cities of Zagazig and Mansoura.
In Mansoura, four people were wounded in the clashes that also involved local residents. Witnesses said the opposing camps hurled rocks at each other. The sound of gunshot was also heard but it was unclear who was firing. Police moved in following a request from the head of the university.
In Zagazig, security sources said five people were wounded in clashes between pro-Morsi students and security personnel on the university campus.
The new government plans presidential and parliamentary elections next year. Morsi was elected last year in Egypt's first democratic presidential vote but was deposed following mass protests against his rule.
Unrest by Morsi supporters has persisted since his downfall, though the number of demonstrators has dwindled.
The new draft legislation to regulate demonstrations has been widely condemned by political and rights activists who see it as a danger to the right to protest. That right is seen by activists as one of the landmark achievements of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, who crushed all public dissent.
The presidency said Mansour had received the draft law from the government on Tuesday and it was being studied. Mansour has the power to issue legislation in the absence of parliament, which was dissolved after Morsi was ousted.
“They have the discretion to ban every single demonstration,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, listing one of several criticisms of the draft.