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Pro-democracy supporters wave Egyptian flags during a supporters' celebration at Talaat Harb Square in Cairo February 18, 2011. Egyptians held a nationwide "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule one week ago, to protect the revolution and to remind new military rulers of the power of the street. Hundreds of thousands joined the rallies, which are also a memorial to the 365 people who died in the 18-day uprising, with many Egyptians expressing their intention to guard their newly-won prospect of democracy. - Pro-democracy supporters wave Egyptian flags during a supporters' celebration at Talaat Harb Square in Cairo February 18, 2011. Egyptians held a nationwide "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule one week ago, to protect the revolution and to remind new military rulers of the power of the street. Hundreds of thousands joined the rallies, which are also a memorial to the 365 people who died in the 18-day uprising, with many Egyptians expressing their intention to guard their newly-won prospect of democracy. | Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters

Egypt recognizes moderate Islamic party, promises to release political prisoners

MAAMOUN YOUSSEF

Cairo— The Associated Press

A moderate Islamic party outlawed for 15 years was granted official recognition Saturday by an Egyptian court in a sign of increasing political openness after the fall of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

Al-Wasat Al-Jadid, or the New Center, was founded in 1996 by activists who split off from the conservative Muslim Brotherhood and sought to create a political movement promoting a tolerant version of Islam with liberal tendencies. Its attempts to register as an official party were rejected four times since then, most recently in 2009.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch accused Mr. Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party of using the law that governs the formation of political parties to maintain a virtual monopoly over political power in Egypt by denying opponents the right to form parties.

The founder of the newly recognized party, Abu al-Ila Madi, said Saturday's ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court was “a positive fruit of the Jan. 25 revolution of the freedom generation.”

Saturday also saw Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq say 222 political prisoners would be released. He said only a few were detained during the popular uprising and put the number of remaining political prisoners at 487, state news agency MENA reported.

He did not say when they would be released.

Mr. Shafiq said the number detained during the revolt did not exceed a handful, and that efforts were underway to find out the fate of those who disappeared during the uprising, the report added.

Protesters and rights groups say hundreds went missing during the protests, and that some are being held by authorities.

Eighteen days of protests in the heart of Cairo and across the country forced the country's president of 29 years to step down.

Mr. Madi said his party would immediately get to work organizing its membership and opening branches to freely participate in Egypt's political life.

Mr. Mubarak's party had dominated Egyptian politics and the national parliament. The military rulers who took control of the country after his ouster dissolved the legislature – one of the protesters' key demands – as a step toward democratic reforms and eventually returning the country to civilian control. November's parliamentary elections were widely criticized as fraudulent.

Several opposition parties had been authorized under Mr. Mubarak's rule, but their representation in parliament was small and they had little influence.

Egypt's largest and most popular opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was also outlawed under Mr. Mubarak but ran candidates in parliamentary elections as independents. There is some concern in Washington and other world capitals that the Brotherhood, which calls for the formation of an Islamic state in Egypt, could now dramatically increase its influence in Egyptian politics.

Seeking to prove Al-Wasat Al-Jadid has a more moderate position, Mr. Madi said two Coptic Christians and three women were among the party's 24 top members.

“We will cooperate with all political powers, secular or democratic, to develop the democratic process,” Mr. Madi said.

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie sought in a statement Saturday to calm fears about his movement's intentions in post-Mubarak Egypt, saying the Brotherhood is part of Egyptian society but does not seek to control it. He repeated that the group would not put up a candidate for the presidential election later this year.

The group's members “are an inseparable part of the fabric of the nation and one of its essential components,” he wrote. “They have no ambition for the presidency or a majority or any extra positions. This is not a new position today but a fixed position of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Mr. Badie also addressed Egypt's military rulers, calling on them to assure workers that the economy will improve.

Workers calling for better wages have held labor strikes throughout the country, and the army has expressed impatience, saying it will no longer allow “illegal” demonstrations that stop production and will take action against them.

Mr. Badie advised the army to “promise them that the situation will improve gradually with the improvement of the national economic situation.” He also called on the army to “carry out productive dialogue” with representatives of different groups.

“This will calm spirits and move people to work and production, and all will come together in an environment of trust and love” he said.

With a report from Reuters