An Egyptian political dissident whose imprisonment had strained relations between Cairo and Washington for more than three years was unexpectedly freed Wednesday in an apparent goodwill gesture toward the new US administration under President Barack Obama. Ayman Nour, who ran against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2005 and was later jailed on widely criticized forgery charges, was released for medical reasons, the Egyptian prosecutor's office said. Nour, who has heart and eye ailments, was due to be freed in 2010 after serving a five-year sentence. Nour's case came to symbolize the relentless campaign by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party to silence political opponents despite outcries from international governments and human-rights groups. Former President George W. Bush and members of his administration repeatedly urged Egypt to release Nour and stop intimidation and harassment that marred the country's national and local elections. "I have no explanation, it was surprising to me," Nour told the Al-Jazeera satellite network upon his release. "I was taken in a car without knowing where I was going, but on the way I knew I was heading home. ... I hope this is a genuine step that goes beyond me and paves the way for a national reconciliation."