CAIRO - The endorsement by influential Islamist leaders of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh, a frontrunner in this month's election, has divided Egypt's Salafis, with many are mulling to cast ballot for other Islamist candidates.
"The youth don't have a unified vote, Motaz Azmy, 27, in Alexandria, a Salafi stronghold where the movement emerged in the 1970s, told Reuters.
Some say they will follow the sheikhs' decision and others will think and decide by themselves.
Abul-Futuh has won the support of the influential Salafi Call and its political party, El-Nour in Egypt's presidential election, set for May 23-24.
The party, which is the second biggest bloc in parliament, said Abul-Futuh combines broad popular appeal with commitment to Islamic values, even though it acknowledged some ideological differences.
The party declined to back the candidate of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Mursi, saying it did not want one group monopolize power.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is the biggest bloc in parliament.
But the endorsement has split Salafis, who number as many as 3 million devotees plus other sympathizers among Egypt's 82 million people.
Some Salafis doubt Abul-Futuh's commitment to implementing Islamic Shari`ah and believe his television and press appearances shows he is too ready to compromise.
"He described us as far-right and said things that contradict Shari`ah, said Omar Abdel Aziz, 24, a Nour party member who said he was backing Mursi.
Salafis can't convince others about him because they themselves aren't convinced.
Many Salafis, though not their parties, had backed Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, who vowed to enforce Shari`ah, promised social justice and blamed the West for many of Egypt's ills.
But he was disqualified in April over his mother's dual nationality, which is banned under Egypt's election rules.
Another group, the Religious Authority for Rights and Reform, which includes Salafi scholars as well as Brotherhood members, has endorsed Mursi in the election.
But Salafi leaders try to lure their followers to back Abul-Futuh in the May vote.
"Don't consider his media statements only, Yasser Burhamy, a founder of the Salafi movement in Egypt, tells his Alexandria audience at Al-Taqwa mosque, his message recorded and posted on the group's website.
He has various writings that confirm his comprehensive understanding of Islam and his desire to achieve it.
Abul-Futuh, who casts himself as moderate, was expelled from the Muslim Brotherhood last year over his decision to run for presidency.
He won strong support among young Egyptians over his criticism of the ruling military rulers over mismanaging the transitional period after the fall of president Hosni Mubarak.
His campaign for full civilian control of the military, the protection of civil liberties and government spending on healthcare and education has also given him a strong backing among young Islamists and liberals alike.
Abul-Futuh has said that a Christian or woman could be president, a view opposed by Salafis.
Since he was endorsed by Salafis, Abul-Futuh has reached out to them, promising that laws not compatible with Shari`ah will be changed and Shari`ah - not "the principles of Shari`ah" as Salafis want - would be the source of legislation.
However, some Salafis are still unconvinced.
"People voted for El-Nour for the sake of religion and nothing else," Abdel Aziz, the party member, said."If Abul-Futuh wins, it will be the dark ages for Salafis and liberals will flourish."