An Egyptian legal expert says the curfew currently in force daily in major population centres across the country cannot be extended legally outside the state of emergency that is due to expire mid-November.
Raafat Fouda, head of the Public Law Department at Cairo University, told Ahram Online that extending a nighttime curfew imposed in Cairo and 13 other governorates outside the reference of emergency law is not possible because its legality derives from the powers of the ruler under emergency law.
However, an official told Al-Ahram Arabic news website Thursday that the fate of Egypt's curfew remains undecided. It might remain in place despite a planned end to the state of emergency mid-November.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to lift the curfew was in the hands of security officials and the defence ministry.
"The legal way out of it is to have a public referendum on extending emergency law," Fouda said.
The curfew was imposed along with emergency law 14 August after the two main sit-ins of supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi calling for his reinstatement were forcefully dispersed.
The operation left hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters dead and sparked days of bloody street violence. Emergency law and a restrictive curfew, imposed for one month and later extended, was seen by authorities as a necessary means to control the chaotic situation.
According to the constitutional declaration issued by Interim President Adly Mansour in July, emergency law can only be invoked for three months and extended for a similar period upon public approval through a national referendum.
A state of emergency curtails people's freedom to assemble and allows the executive to suspend certain civil rights in times of internal conflict of natural disaster, making the arrest of citizens without court orders possible.
Emergency law also allows the confiscation or suspension of publications, enforces opening and closing times for shops, and authorises surveillance of citizens.
Egypt has gradually relaxed the curfew, which is now from midnight to 5am except on Fridays — traditionally a day of protests — when it begins at 7pm.
With emergency law set to end 14 November, interim authorities will be obliged to find another legal procedure if they wish to extend the curfew.
The possibility that the state of emergency will be extended brings back dark memories of the 30-year-rule of Hosni Mubarak where authorities used emergency law to sustain a system of arbitrary arrest and intimidation of critics.
Gamal Eid, a rights lawyer from the Arabic Network for Human Rights, said there should be no return to repressive laws. "This is not the solution for the violence and terror events [Egypt is witnessing]. These laws proved a dismal failure since Mubarak's time," Eid said.
A cabinet's media advisor was quoted Tuesday as saying the government does not intend to extend emergency law. It was not clear, though, if other exceptional procedures would be taken to keep the curfew in place.
Fouda said one alterative could be adding an article to the new counter-terrorism law being drafted, to allow a curfew to be imposed.
"It would, however, breach freedoms and violate constitutional values to ban people's free movement with no justification," Fouda added.
Earlier this week, the government assented to the demands of political forces to delay discussion on a controversial draft protest law until parliamentary elections are held.
Eid see the three past months as characterised by double standards, impunity and random arrests. He considers the counter-terrorism and protest laws being drafted as bringing back the same repressive practices of the Mubarak regime but under different guises.
"If it failed all along, why extend it again?" Eid said, adding: "If the government applied the rule of law on all violators, we wouldn't need exceptional procedures."