CAIRO — Egypt's interim president on Thursday extended a nationwide state of emergency by two months, citing security conditions.
The nearly month-old state of emergency, which gives security forces greater powers of arrest, had been due to expire within days. It was first declared in mid-August after authorities cleared two protest encampments held by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, unleashing violence that claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 in subsequent days.
Ever since, a nighttime curfew has also been in effect in much of the country. The government will decide separately on whether to continue the curfew.
The extension had been widely expected, and the decree cited continued security concerns.
Scattered protests by Morsi supporters continue nearly daily, and the government says it faces an organized violent campaign to destabilize the country. Authorities have been carrying out a crackdown on supporters of Morsi, including leading members of his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, accusing them of inciting violence. Security officials say at least 2,000 Brotherhood members and other Islamists have been arrested in the past month, all of them facing prosecution.
At the same time, extremist attacks on police stations, government offices and churches have grown more brazen in south Egypt, the restive Sinai and closer to the capital.
A day earlier, a pair of suicide bombers rammed their explosives-laden cars into military targets in the volatile Sinai Peninsula, killing nine soldiers. Last week, a suicide car bombing in Cairo targeted the convoy of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police. Ibrahim escaped unharmed but a civilian was killed, in the first such political assassination attempt since Morsi's July 3 ouster.
In an interview with the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm Wednesday, interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said the government was recommending the state of emergency be extended for a month or two because of "an increasingly tense situation." He called it an "exceptional" measure that should be used minimally.
According to the interim constitution, the state of emergency can only be imposed for three months, then it must be put to a public referendum. For most of the 30-year rule of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, the state of emergency was imposed as the government said it was battling terrorism.
Shortly after Mubarak's ouster it was lifted.
El-Beblawi said the curfew would likely be eased, particularly ahead of schools returning, in the third week of September. The curfew has already been eased before, reducing it from a 11 hours down to seven hours, in 11 governorates. On Fridays, a day when protests usually draw larger numbers, the curfew continues to be for 11 hours.
Government officials and the media have expressed concern that the return of schools and universities, where the Brotherhood traditionally has a strong base, may be an occasion for protests and unrest to spread.