CAIRO Egypt will hold a parliamentary election in September, its military rulers said on Monday, setting a date that analysts said would suit well-organized Islamists and remnants of former leader Hosni Mubarak's party.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said emergency laws that have helped crush political life for decades would be lifted before elections, but did not say when, and approved a law easing restrictions on political party formation.
"It is a challenge for the new forces that came up as a result of the revolution," said Mustapha al-Sayyid, a political scientist, referring to the timetable for elections. "This period is relatively short for these parties."
Many secular reform groups have been calling on the military, which has governed since Mubarak was deposed on February 11, to extend the transitional period to allow political life to recover from decades of oppression.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group formally banned under Mubarak, has emerged as the country's best organised political force. Other fledgling groups are trying to organize.
"Parliamentary elections will be in September," said Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of the ruling military council. A date for a presidential election, which will follow the legislative polls, had yet to be set, he added in a news conference.
The elections are major milestones on the path set by the military in a transition that will end with the army relinquishing power to a civilian, elected government.
The military also said on Monday a curfew in place since the start of the uprising that swept Mubarak from power was shortened to three hours from 2 a.m. (0000 GMT) to 5 a.m. -- a sign of growing confidence in the police that have returned to the streets in recent weeks to restore law and order.
"The time is short but we will work with all our capacities to take part," said Abou Elela Mady, leader of the recently licensed Wasat Party (Center Party). "It doesn't give us a full opportunity but it's a good start."
The Brotherhood has voiced support for quick elections. But it has sought to reassure Egyptians worried about its relative strength by saying it will not seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority.
PARTIES "NEED YEARS, NOT MONTHS"
The Islamist group and other reformists are discussing the idea of entering the legislative election in an alliance to produce a "revolutionary majority" that will take the lead in drafting a new constitution once the parliament is elected.
The military suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament after Mubarak stepped down. Shaheen said the army would issue a constitutional decree that will provide a legal basis for its rule in the coming days.
The military council said the state of emergency which has been in force since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 would also be lifted before any elections were held.
"We have said before that parliamentary or presidential polls will not be held while emergency law is still in force," Shaheen said.
The military council also approved a law that will ease restrictions on the formation of political parties.
Under the new law, Shaheen said new parties would need the approval of 5,000 members from at least 10 of Egypt's 29 provinces, increasing the number of signatures from 1,000 outlined in a draft law approved by cabinet last week.
The Brotherhood is one of the groups expected to now begin steps toward forming a political party.
A plethora of new parties are expected to apply for an official license from a committee formerly headed by a leading figure in Mubarak's party. Under the new law, it will be headed by a judge.
"The September date is not too soon," said Amr Hashem of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
"The argument that parties will need more time to prepare is wanting. Parties will need years, not months, so any delay we are talking about now is not going to make that much of a difference," he said.
(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Tom Perry; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Diana Abdallah)