Cairo - Influential Egyptian hardline Islamist movement, the Salafi Call, said on Saturday it will back moderate former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh for president, hurting the Brotherhood's chances of winning next month's vote.
"The Salafi Call has decided by majority vote to back Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh in the presidential elections," senior Salafi Call member Yasser Borhamy said. "The Nour Party, the political wing of the Salafi Call, has also voted to back Abol Fotouh."
The second largest party in parliament, bettered only by the Brotherhood in legislative elections early this year, the Nour Party is a formidable force in Egypt's new politics.
Its decision comes as a blow to Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi who had been lobbying for the conservative vote as well as the backing of Salafi groups which have up to 3 million devotees and control as many as 4,000 mosques.
The May 23 and 24 presidential election will decide who replaces Hosni Mubarak. Other front-runners include the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister.
Abol Fotouh, known as a reformer within the Muslim Brotherhood, broke ties with the group last year when he decided to run for president, going against the group's initial decision not to run for the presidency.
But in a policy U-turn last month, the Brotherhood decided to contest the election. Mursi, the group's candidate, is seen as part of a more conservative wing in the Brotherhood and has been widely criticised for lacking charisma.
Borhamy said that should Abol Fotouh not make it to the second round, the Salafi Call and Nour Party would back Mursi, should he get that far.
Finding support among the Liberal and and Islamist camps, Abol Fotouh said last week he was confident he would win in the first round.