CAIRO  - Egypt's military ruler said the country's decades-old state of emergency will be lifted on Wednesday except in cases of fighting "thuggery," and rights groups swiftly slammed the move as cosmetic.

"I have taken a decision to end the state of emergency, in all parts of the country, except in fighting acts of thuggery, starting on the morning of January 25, 2012," Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said Tuesday in a televised address.

The partial lifting of the emergency law, which gives police wide powers of arrest and suspends constitutional rights, coincides with the first anniversary of the uprising that brought down president Hosni Mubarak.

But the inclusion of the term "thuggery" is controversial, with activists repeatedly accusing the ruling military of using the term loosely to stifle political dissent.

"For all purposes, the state of emergency has not been lifted," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

The term thuggery "is now being instrumentalised," he told AFP. "It will allow police to use their powers to search and detain anyone suspected of being a thug. 'Thuggery' does not refer to any recognisable criminal offence."

Egyptians have been living under emergency law continuously since Islamists assassinated president Anwar Sadat in 1981 and Mubarak took power.

In September the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) widened the scope of the emergency law - restricted in 2010 to narcotics and terrorism - to strikes, traffic disruption and the spreading of rumours. Tantawi's announcement comes on the eve of mass protests planned in Cairo to continue to press for democratic change.

The SCAF has grandiose celebrations including parades and fireworks displays lined up for Wednesday to mark one year since the launch of the revolt that forced Mubarak to step down after three decades in power.

But activists say the journey to democratic rule is far from over and have called for nationwide street protests on Wednesday to keep pushing for change. They accuse the SCAF, and its chief Tantawi, of cracking down on dissent, reneging on promises of reform and violating human rights. The lifting of the emergency law has been a key demand of protesters.

Bahgat says it is now up to the new parliament to push for an end to the emergency rule.  Marathon legislative elections which ended just days ago propelled Islamist movements to the centre stage of politics, with the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood now dominating the assembly.

"This will be a decisive challenge for the new parliament," Bahgat said.

"We call on all members to insist of the immediate return of ordinary laws," he said.