AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan on Monday released a top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group after he served over two-thirds of his 18-month prison term for criticizing the United Arab Emirates, an ally of the kingdom.
Zaki Bani Ersheid's release comes at a time of growing divisions in the Jordanian branch of the pan-Arab Brotherhood, weakening its long-time role as the main political opposition.
In 2015, the Jordanian branch split, with a breakaway faction emphasizing its Jordanian identity and seeking government recognition. Bani Ersheid is the deputy leader of the original Brotherhood, which retains ties to the regional parent movement.
In another sign of internal turmoil, more than 300 activists, including senior members, resigned from the original Brotherhood branch in recent days, in part because of disputes over previous leadership elections, according to movement officials.
The regional movement also suffered setbacks, including government crackdowns, since initially emerging as the main beneficiary of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Bani Ersheid was released early Monday, 13 months after his November 2014 arrest. He had been sentenced to 18 months after he criticized the UAE for labeling the Brotherhood a terrorist group.
Dozens of well-wishers greeted Bani Ersheid later Monday at a large tent set up outside his home on the outskirts of Amman, the Jordanian capital.
He struck a largely conciliatory tone, saying that "we forgive what happened in the past," an apparent reference to his arrest.
Bani Ersheid called for genuine political reforms, suggesting that the government has not kept its previous promises. "We have heard a lot of talk about reforms, but we don't see any results," he said.
Jordan's government spokesman, Mohammed Momani, said Bani Ersheid "served his time after being sentenced by the court."
Bani Ersheid did not win early release, said Momani. Under the Jordanian system, a year-long term means less than 12 months in prison, said Murad Adayleh, a Brotherhood spokesman.
The charges against Bani Ersheid came at a time of growing polarization in the region, with some Arab countries such as Egypt and the UAE adopting a harder stance against Islamist groups. The Muslim Brotherhood has been formally banned in Egypt and several Arab Gulf countries.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.