CAIRO — The radical Egyptian Islamist group Gamaa Islamiyya, implicated in acts including the assassination of ex-president Anwar Sadat, on Monday threw its support behind a moderate Islamist in next month's presidential election.
"The general assembly (of Gamaa Islamiyya) voted in favour of supporting" Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, the spiritual head of the movement Tarek al-Zomor told AFP.
The first round of voting is set for on May 23 and 24.
He said the group would ALSO look for other candidates to support, but that if no others were found by Wednesday, its backing for Abol Fotouh would be formalised.
Classified for many years as a terrorist organisation and banned in Egypt, Gamaa Islamiyya has sought to enter mainstream Egyptian politics since the popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Gamaa Islamiyya militants participated, along with members of Egyptian group Islamic Jihad, in the 1981 attack that killed Sadat, Mubarak's predecessor.
It also claimed responsibility for a devastating attack in Egypt's southern city of Luxor in 1997 that killed 62 people, most of them tourists.
Abol Fotouh is a former senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood which expelled him from the movement last year because he nominated himself when the movement planned not to contest the election.
Last week, he secured the support of the most important hardline Islamist group, the Salafist Al-Nur party, which has around 20 percent of the seats in parliament, as well as the support of the moderate Islamist party Wassat.
Seen as a moderate Islamist, Abol Fotouh also enjoys the support of many young Brotherhood members who object to the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative attitude.
He is also well regarded by a large number of secular-minded youth who participated in last year's uprising against Mubarak.
Abol Fotouh's growing support threatens to cause problems for official Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi, who risks losing a large section of the Islamist vote to him.
Some Egyptian commentators reckon he has a good chance of making it through to the second round run-off on June 16 and 17, possibly to stand against Egypt's main secular candidate, former foreign minister and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa.