CAIRO // The Egyptian military has allowed an emergency law used by the regime of Hosni Mubarak to easily suppress dissent to expire.
"It's one small, practical step for Egyptian law, but a giant, symbolic leap for Egyptian politics," said Nathan Brown, a professor at Georgetown University and expert on Egyptian constitutional law.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), a group of generals who took control of the country when Mubarak resigned last year, said they would not renew the reviled law, but pledged to maintain security until the handover of power to a new president on June 30.
Under the state of emergency created in 1981, the authorities were given the power to arrest and hold citizens without trial for any period of time, and to try them in military courts. It allowed them to conduct searches, seizures and surveillance without judicial authorisation. Mubarak's security forces used it to repress groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Scaf partly repealed the law in February, but kept the powers in case of "thuggery". The ambiguous clause preserved the military's wide powers to arrest protesters and subject them to military tribunal. Thousands of demonstrators have been arrested through the emergency law from the beginning of the uprising in 2011.
Ahmed Ghappour, a human rights lawyer, said that the expiration "brings Egypt one step closer to a democratic state", but without the abolition of military trials for civilians and other authoritarian activity it would be "just a game of musical chairs".