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Student murder stokes fears of Egypt's Islamists

Thursday, July 05, 2012    

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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Three bearded men approached a university student and his girlfriend during a romantic rendezvous and ordered them to separate because they weren't married, according to security officials. An argument broke out, ending with one of the men fatally stabbing the student.

The June 25 attack has alarmed Egyptians concerned that with an Islamist president in office, vigilante groups are feeling emboldened to enforce strict Islamic mores.

Islamists, including members of one-time violent groups, were empowered after last year's ouster of Hosni Mubarak's secular regime by a popular uprising. They formed political parties and won about 70 per cent of parliament seats in elections held some six months ago, although a court dissolved the legislature.

Moderate Muslims along with liberal and women's groups now worry that Mohammed Morsi's presidency will eradicate what is left of Egypt's secular traditions and change the social fabric of the mainly Muslim nation of 82 million people.

Some activists say Islamists are already flexing their muscles in areas outside Cairo, taking advantage of the absence of civil society groups and tenuous security.

They cite reports of efforts to persuade drivers of communal taxis, mostly 16-seat minibuses, to segregate women and men passengers. In some instances, women's hairdressing salons were told to get rid of male employees or threatened with closure.

"If Islamists are to try and enforce their version of Islam, they will do it in rural areas, at least initially," said Yara Sallam from Nazra, a women's rights group.

The security officials said there was no concrete evidence linking the June 25 killing to radical Islamic groups, but it still has stoked fears.

Islamist groups, including Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis, denied any link to the murders.

Rights groups say they have sent teams to investigate the killing and establish whether Islamists were behind the attacks.

On the same day, two musicians, who were brothers, were murdered as they were travelling home after performing at a wedding in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiyah, officials said. Radical Muslims consider music "haram" or prohibited, as a distraction from religious duties.

Two ultraconservative Salafi Muslims were arrested, but officials said it was not clear if the killings were religiously motivated.

Nonetheless, thousands of residents in the victims' hometown protested the killings, cutting off roads and disrupting train services by sitting on the rails. They also torched the home of one suspect.

Some activists believe that the Brotherhood is at least quietly condoning nonviolent activity designed to bring the country more in alignment with Islam's teachings — a founding goal of the 84-year-old fundamentalist movement.

"They may not be involved but they are turning a blind eye to what their low- and middle- rank members do on the streets," said Nehad Abul-Omsan of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights.

"What they do is like test balloons for their leaders. If society stands up to what they do, then they know it is not time yet to Islamise. If people accept it, then they ask them to do more."

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