The executive, Mahmoud Sayed Ghazlan, who walked out of prison on Tuesday night, said his release was a surprise, and he thought the government wanted to improve its image in the run-up to the presidential elections on 7 September.

"The government seems to be adopting a lenient position as the country is now on the threshold of presidential elections, and it thought that keeping us in prison would be politically embarrassing," Ghazlan said on Wednesday.

Three of the others released were Abd al-Munaym al-Barbari, Usama Abu Shadi and Majid al-Zumar, Aljazeera learned.

Ghazlan, who is a member of the Guidance Bureau, the Brotherhood's highest decision-making body, said the group had not negotiated with the government to secure the release of him and his four fellow prisoners.

No deal

"There was no deal, and we were released, according to the law, after we had served three-quarters of our five-year jail sentence," Ghazlan said.

He said he was still surprised by the release because the government has the right to keep prisoners in jail, even after they have served three-quarters of their term, if it deems them a threat to public security.

"There was no deal, and we were released, according to the law, after we had served three-quarters of our five-year jail sentence"

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood executive

On Sunday, the government released nine members of the Brotherhood, including the high-ranking Mahmoud Ezzat, who were detained in May during a crackdown on pro-reform protesters.

Ghazlan and 15 other Brothers were convicted in what is known as the Asatitha case by a military court in 2002 on charges of belonging to an illegal organisation and recruiting members.

"We were arrested shortly after the 11 September 2001 events and it was clear the government wanted to show its support for the United States in combating terrorism and to impede the Brotherhood's growing influence," Ghazlan said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks an Islamic state in
Egypt, has been banned since 1954, but the government
allows it to function. The state relaxes and tightens its
control on the group according to the political climate.

The Brotherhood is not allowed to stand in elections, but
nominally independent candidates who were endorsed by the
group hold 15 seats in parliament, forming the largest
opposition bloc.