CAIRO — Three bearded men approached a university student and his girlfriend during a romantic rendezvous in a park 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 on the streets.
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 percent of parliament seats in elections held 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 said Islamists already are flexing their muscles in areas outside Cairo and other main cities, taking advantage of the absence of civil society groups and tenuous security in the areas.
They cite reports of efforts to persuade drivers of communal taxis, mostly minibuses that can seat up to 16, to segregate women and men passengers.
In some instances, women’s hairdressing salons were told to get rid of male employees or were threatened with closure.
“If Islamists are to try and take over the streets and enforce their version of Islam, they will do it in rural areas, at least initially,” said Yara Sallam of Nazra, a women’s rights group.
The security officials said there was no concrete evidence linking the June 25 killing to radical Islamic groups in Egypt, but it still has stoked fears.
Islamist groups, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis, denied any link to the student’s death.
Rights groups said they have sent teams to investigate the killing and establish whether Islamists were behind the attack.
On the same day, two musicians, who were brothers, were murdered as they were traveling home after performing in a wedding in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiyah, officials said. Radical Muslims consider music prohibited, as a distraction from religious duties.
Two Salafis were arrested, but officials said it was not clear if the killings were religiously motivated.
Nonetheless, thousands of residents of Abu Kibeer, the victims’ hometown, protested the killings, cutting off roads and disrupting train services by sitting on the rails. They also destroyed the local offices of a charity they suspected the culprits belonged to and 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 Center 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 Islamize. If people accept it, then they ask them to do more. What we need is a clear and public commitment to freedoms by the leaders of Islamic groups.”
About 100 activists, political parties and civic groups have issued a statement calling on Morsi to protect women against what it said was growing incidents of harassment, particularly against those not wearing the Muslim veil.