Egypt: Islamic authorities order release of leading Muslim Brotherhood figures

Egyptian authorities ordered the release Saturday of leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam el-Erian , who had spent more than five months in custody without charge, and three other members of the banned Islamic group on bail.

Ex-lawmaker el-Erian, 52, and fellow Brotherhood leader Helmi el-Gazar were detained May 6 hours before the staging of nationwide anti-government protests, which police alleged they had organized. Few details were available on the other two ordered freed, who were among hundreds of rank-and-file Muslim Brotherhood members arrested, but later released, in a crackdown against political activists opposing the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Later Saturday, Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud said el-Erian refused to pay bail of 2,000 Egyptian pounds (US$347; Ђ287), arguing that it was not required because he had not been charged. Prosecutor Hisham Badawoui rejected the argument and said el-Erian would not be released without bail. Abdel Maqsoud his client then agreed to pay and was expected to be freed on Sunday.

Before he was most-recently jailed, El-Erian had spent five years in jail since 1995 on charges of belonging to a banned group that sought to create an Islamic state in Egypt. Egyptian authorities can hold detainees for up to six months without trial under much criticized emergency laws issued in 1981 after Islamic militants assassinated President Anwar Sadat.

The Brotherhood was established in 1928 but banned in 1954. It has long refrained from provoking the government but has engaged in protests since March demanding political reform. The organization, believed to be Egypt's largest Islamist group, is highly organized and remains a key player in Egyptian politics despite the ban and vilification in the state-run media.

It renounced violence in the 1970s and now has supporters sitting as independents in parliament, holding 15 seats as the largest opposition bloc. The group has announced its planning to field some 150 candidates in upcoming legislative elections scheduled for Nov. 9, but el-Erian is not expected to run, said Mahmoud, the AP reports.