CAIRO: Egypt s best-known political dissident Ayman Nour said on Thursday that the decision to release him from prison came as a surprise and that he hoped it was not the result of foreign pressure.
I was surprised by my release, Nour, 44, told a news conference a day after the authorities ordered his release from prison after more than three years behind bars.
Nour said he did not know why he was set free on Wednesday. A judicial source had said Egypt s public prosecutor decided to release the diabetic Nour on health grounds.
On Wednesday, hours after his release, Nour, in apparent good health, told a scrum of journalists at his Cairo home: I was released today without agreements or conditions.
Nour, a lawyer, mounted an unprecedented challenge against veteran incumbent Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential election before being jailed on forgery charges many saw as trumped up.
He came a distant second against Mubarak, in power since 1981, and was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of forging affidavits needed to set up his El-Ghad (Tomorrow) party.
During his time in prison, Egypt s reform movement has largely collapsed, security forces are cracking down heavily on political activists and no opposition parties are strong enough to challenge Mubarak. Nour s Al-Ghad party has fragmented in a leadership battle that turned violent last year, with one faction burning parts of the party headquarters in a clash.
Washington had been sharply critical of Nour s arrest and detention and repeatedly called for his release, although public US criticism of the case that raised tensions with key regional ally Egypt eased off in recent months.
However, Nour s release came less than a week after Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit visited Washington as the first Arab foreign minister to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton since President Barack Obama took office.
Asked if he thought his release was the result of US pressure, Nour said: It would not please me if my release was because of foreign pressure.
He also insisted that he had no contact with any foreign group during his time in jail, and said: We are not US agents.
Nour also urged Obama to ensure that his administration places the public interest over state relations.
I have one sentence for Obama … enough of trading principles for state interests, he said. Let us work for the good of the people, and not the interests of rulers.
Washington on Wednesday welcomed his release, with State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid saying that the United States had been calling for Nour to be freed for some time.
When asked if he would run again for presidency, Nour said that was a decision to be made by his party. Egyptian law bars convicted criminals as candidates for president, but Nour said a legal way could be found for him to run. We have solutions, he said without elaborating. When the time comes, I will present them to the elections committee, he said.
The next presidential elections are in 2011. The 80-year-old Mubarak has not said whether he will run again, and many believe he is positioning his son Gamal to succeed him.
Nour said his priority now was to rebuild his fragmented El-Ghad party and reach out to other opposition groups as well as reasonable members of the ruling National Democratic Party.
This party will extinguish the many fires in Egypt, he said, in apparent reference to the violent confrontation between rival factions last November in which his party headquarters was set ablaze.
I have not come out for revenge. I have come out to do the same work I was jailed for, he added. – Agencies