| Updated at: 0803 PST, Tuesday, February 08, 2011|
ALEXANDRIA: Hamdi Hassan, a senior member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood party, was jailed by Egyptian authorities Jan. 28 during the tensest days of anti-government protests in this coastal city.
But Hassan walked out of jail two days later after protesters commandeered the facility and freed all the inmates. By this weekend, the 51-year-old physician sounded exultant as he held court in a main square, mobbed by his supporters in what has long been a Brotherhood stronghold.
"This is a defining and historic moment because Egyptians from all walks of life are finally free,'' Hassan said. He made clear that he had no fear of being arrested again, even as charred police vehicles in the background offered evidence of the turmoil that spread from Cairo to Alexandria at the height of the violence.
Hassan's own turnabout reflects a reversal that has left Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic party, poised for the first time to claim a real stake in Egyptian politics in whatever follows three decades of rule by President Hosni Mubarak.
Officially banned since 1954, the Brotherhood has long been the target of vicious government crackdowns. But as the oldest, largest and best-organized group in Egypt, the Brotherhood could conceivably become the largest bloc in a new parliament whenever new elections are held.
Though it was not a driving force behind the demonstrations that began Jan. 25 and grew into a popular uprising, the Brotherhood has wasted no time setting the groundwork for a political resurgence. Its leaders have now claimed their place among those who met Sunday with Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, to discuss constitutional reforms and a transition plan.
The development has left some of the more liberal, secular protesters visibly unnerved.
Among those looking on with scorn as Hassan was hailed by the crowd Sunday was a 30-year-old Egyptian who would give his name only as Amr, saying that he needed to protect himself from retribution because he said he had thrown stones and helped set police cars on fire during the recent rioting.
Although he is Muslim, Amr said he has no affinity for the Brotherhood and regards the group as opportunists.
"Initially, it was a battle between rebels and a dictator,'' Amr said. "Now they have stripped us of our revolution and are going to make a deal with the government.''
Some members of the Brotherhood have long aspired to transform Egypt into an Islamic state. But the message that Hassan was delivering Sunday was more moderate, reflecting the group's vow to cooperate with secular and more-moderate Islamic politicians when Mubarak's regime ends.
"One of our demands is free and fair elections that really demonstrate the will of the Egyptian people,'' Hassan said.