An Egyptian court overturned a government decree allowing the army to arrest civilians on Tuesday, a setback for military rulers preparing to hand power to an elected president.
The decree was issued by the army-backed interim government before a tense presidential run-off vote on June 16-17.
It was challenged by rights activists and politicians who accused the generals of reviving an unpopular emergency law that lapsed in May.
“The court has blocked the decision of the Minister of Justice that gave military and military intelligence officers powers of arrest,” Cairo administrative court Judge Ali Fikry said, according to Reuters.
The court took the decision after reviewing an appeal filed by 17 rights groups against the controversial decree passed on June 13.
“The decision creates extraordinary powers that have no basis in law,” the groups had said in a statement, describing the order as “a blatant circumvention of the official end of the state of emergency.”
“The decision could put in place far worse restrictions than those of the state of emergency,” the statement said.
The military has said the decree was necessary after the end of a decades-long state of emergency while the army remained on the streets.
The full decree granted Egypt’s military police and intelligence the power to detain civilians and refer them to a military tribunal.
Members of the then Islamist-led parliament, before it was dissolved two weeks ago by Egypt’s Supreme Court, described the step as an attempt to reproduce the state of emergency.
The state of emergency law was a permanent fixture of former president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and expired on May 31, and gave security forces sweeping powers of search and arrest. It was seen as one of the Mubarak administration’s main tools for crushing dissent.
The government decree would have allowed the army to enjoy a broad mandate for imposing law and order until a new constitution is written - a process that is expected to last well beyond the date by which the ruling military council is due to hand power to president-elect Mohammed Mursi.
According to an Al Arabiya correspondent in Cairo, Mursi is due to be sworn in next Saturday before the General Assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court, after which he will be handed over the authority from the military council.
Egypt’s daily al-Masry al-Youm quoted a military source as saying that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is planning two-day celebrations on July 1, for stressing the loyalty of the army to the nation and for underlining how it fulfilled its national responsibilities along the past 18 months.