Egypt's Islamic party al-Nour has decided to support an ex-Muslim Brotherhood member in next month's presidential election, the party has announced.
The leader of the Nour party, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, said on Saturday that the decision to back Abdel-Moneim Abol Fotouh was designed to allay fears among Egyptians over the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, after it swept recent parliamentary and constituent assembly elections.
The decision by al-Nour, which has around 20 per cent of the seats in parliament, could cause problems for official Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi, who risks losing a large section of the Islamist vote to Abol Fotouh.
The second largest party in parliament, bettered only by the Brotherhood in legislative elections early this year, al-Nour is now a formidable force in Egypt's politics.
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 post.
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.
Finding support among the Liberal and Islamist camps, Abol Fotouh said last week he was confident he would win in the first round.