Egyptian authorities order release of five Muslim Brotherhood members

Egyptian authorities on Sunday ordered the release of a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure who had been detained for more than five months without charge and four other members of the banned Islamic group, police officials said.

Yasser Abdou was detained May 6 with three other Brotherhood leaders, including Essam el-Erian, hours before nationwide anti-government protests that police alleged they organized.

Hundreds of Brotherhood members were arrested in the government crackdown as a result of increased protests against President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's leader since 1981.

No details were available on the four other Brotherhood members ordered released along with Abdou.

El-Erian's was ordered released on Saturday and was set free at sundown Sunday.

"It would have been ridiculous to keep me in detention without charges and without court decision," El-Erian told The Associated Press shortly after his release, which he said was the result of "different circumstance that the country is going through and media pressure."

Egyptian authorities can hold detainees for six months without trial under a much-criticized emergency law issued in 1981 after Islamic militants assassinated President Anwar Sadat.

Many of the protests by the Brotherhood and secular groups have also been demanded the release of el-Erian and his colleagues.

El-Erian, 51, said he will consult with his family, his supporters and with the Brotherhood before deciding if he will run in next month's parliamentary elections.

Since 1995, the former lawmaker has spent five years in prison on sentences handed down by a military court. The conviction could snarl any attempt to run for parliament.

"The timing of the release is important, and bewildering, " said Diaa Rashwan, Cairo-based expert on Islamic groups. "Is this a message to the outside world or to the Muslim Brothers? I'm not sure. There had not been much outside (international) pressure for his release."

He suggested the Mubarak government may be feeling confident the Muslim Brotherhood won't do well in the polls and did not want them to have the excuse of leaders being in jail.

The group has announced its planning to field 150 candidates in upcoming legislative elections, more than double the number that ran in 2000 elections.

The Brotherhood, believed to be Egypt's largest Islamist group, was established in 1928, banned in 1954 and renounced violence in the 1970s.

It advocates an Islamic government and has supporters sitting as independents in parliament, holding 15 seats as the largest opposition bloc, AP reported. V.A.

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