Image: A youth peeks through a tent made of an Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt
Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
A youth peeks through a tent made of an Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/24/2012 11:38:55 AM ET 2012-01-24T16:38:55

Egypt's military ruler on Tuesday decreed a partial lifting of the nation's hated emergency laws, while saying the draconian measures would still apply to crimes committed by "thugs."

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in a televised address to the nation that the emergency laws would be lifted effective Wednesday, the first anniversary of the start of the popular uprising that toppled longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces he chairs took power when Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011.

"I have taken a decision to end the state of emergency," he said, adding the exception for "thuggery."

He did not spell out what thuggery meant exactly.

"This is not a real cancellation of the state of emergency," said Essam Sultan, a newly elected member of parliament from the Wasat Party, a moderate Islamist group.

"The proper law designates the ending of the state of emergency completely or enforcing it completely, nothing in between," he said.

Far-reaching powers
The decision to partially lift the laws, which have given police far-reaching powers since 1981, would also likely not satisfy rights groups that have been campaigning for the total removal of the laws.

They have complained about the repeated use by the military of the term "thugs" to justify crackdowns on protesters.

Egyptians want new parliament to 'hear our voice'

Rights groups say at least 12,000 civilians have been tried before military tribunals since the generals took power nearly a year ago.

Many of them, they say, were charged with acts of "thuggery" when, in fact, they were protesters.

The term has been used to ridicule the military in the independent press, and some of the young protesters in recent demonstrations have been chanting, "we are thugs!"

Story: On eve of power, Egypt Islamists show moderation

At least 80 protesters have been killed by troops since October.

Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister for some 20 years, during which he was known to be unquestioningly loyal to the ousted leader.

Sullen-faced ruler
He and the generals on the military council, according to activists, remain beholden to Mubarak, whose approval was essential for their promotion through the ranks. Mubarak ruled for 29 years, and the emergency laws were in force throughout.

A sullen-faced Tantawi, who is in his 70s, renewed past pledges that the military would return to the barracks when power is handed to a civilian administration.

Tantawi's address came one day after Egypt's first freely elected parliament in decades held its inaugural session, a significant step in the handover process.

The election for the 508-seat chamber was held over a six-week period starting Nov. 28. The Islamist-dominated legislature's first priority is to name a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution. The next step would be to put the draft to a vote in a nationwide referendum whose date has yet to be announced.

Presidential elections are to be held before the end of June, and the military has said it would return to its barracks when a new president is sworn in.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Mubarak’s trial resumes

  1. Closed captioning of: Mubarak’s trial resumes

    >>> the trial of ousted egyptian president hosni mubarak resumed this morning with the 83-year-old wheeled in on a hospital gurney. he's facing charges in connection to the deaths of some 800 anti-government protesters. nbc joins us live from cairo.

    >> reporter: good afternoon, chris. as you mentioned, after three months, the former president, his two sons, and six other security officials, including the former ? minister of interior , were brought back into court after this recess. now, we have to emphasize the reason why there was this three-month delay was because defendants were actually -- lawyers representing the defendants were trying to get the judge removed. they wanted a different judge to reside over the case. that motion was dismissed, so it is the same judge who began the trial that will oversee it. the defense strategy is really to say that the former president and his security officials acted within the law and that he, the president, never gave a specific order to actually kill demonstrators but to simply contain the demonstrations. the prosecution has yet to make its case. we're still in the very early stages of this trial that is expected to go on for a very long time. human rights organizations and pro-democracy activists in egypt have been extremely disappointed with the decision by the judge to ban television cameras from inside the courtroom. when this trial began, the egyptian people and really across the arab world were able to see this trial. now since that decision though, journalists have been allowed in but cameras will not be allowed in until the end of the trial. back to you, chris.

    >> thank you. what political story

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