After 20 years behind bars, Karam Zuhdi was freed by Interior Minister Habib al-Adli on Sunday for humanitarian reasons – the former al-Jamaa al-Islamiya member suffers coronary problems, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Zuhdi headed the policy-making Shura council of Egypt’s largest Islamist group that shot to notoriety in 1997 when rogue elements of the organization murdered 58 foreign tourists in Luxor.
Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya took part in a bloody six-year campaign in the 1990s to overthrow the Egyptian government and install an Islamic government, before calling a truce in 1997.
Since the Luxor killings by a faction opposed to the ceasefire, there have been no similar attacks in Egypt.
Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya planned
In recent months, Egypt has published several interviews with jailed al-Jamaa leaders, including Zuhdi, reiterating their commitment to the ceasefire.
Security analysts say the interviews are part of government efforts to give moderate Islamists a louder voice to counter any latent threats from those who still espouse violence.
Some analysts have speculated the government may release people like Zuhdi from jail to give them greater influence in Islamist circles.
Egypt’s Middle East News Agency said the interior minister would release several suspected members of al-Gamaa who had completed their jail terms and had genuinely repented for their crimes.