Tolerant New Egypt: "When they were beating me, they kept saying: 'We won't leave any Christians in this country'"
It is a politically correct article of faith that there is nothing inherently abusive in Sharia law that cannot be written off as tribal or cultural baggage, or as a prescription so old (14 centuries ago, after all!) that it is assumed no longer to be relevant even to sincere believers -- at least not to that Vast Majority of Moderates. Qur'an 9:29? Nah. Dhimmitude is so last-millennium.
The subsequent assumption is that since Islam is supposed to be peaceful and tolerant, an increased role for Islam in society can only be good for peace and tolerance in a way that would just happen to match Western standards and expectations for those concepts.
QENA, Egypt—Five weeks after the fall of the Egyptian regime, Ayman Anwar Mitri's apartment was torched. When he showed up to investigate, he was bundled inside by bearded Islamists.
Mr. Mitri is a member of the Christian Coptic minority that accounts for one-tenth of the country's 83 million people. The Islamists accused him of having rented the apartment—by then unoccupied—to loose Muslim women.
Inside the burnt apartment, they beat him with the charred remains of his furniture. Then, one of them produced a box cutter and performed what he considered an appropriate punishment under Islam: He amputated Mr. Mitri's right ear.
That could be read as an allusion and possible prelude to amputations more explicitly prescribed in Islamic law, such as Qur'an 5:33's call to amputate the hand and foot on opposite sides from those who "spread mischief in the land."
"When they were beating me, they kept saying: 'We won't leave any Christians in this country,'" Mr. Mitri recalled in a recent interview, two months after the March attack. Blood dripped through a plastic tube from his unhealed wound to a plastic container. "Here, there is a war against the Copts," he said.
His attackers, who were never arrested or prosecuted, follow the ultrafundamentalist Salafi strain of Islam that promotes an austere, Saudi-inspired worldview. Before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11, the Salafis mostly confined themselves to preaching. Since then, they've entered the political arena, drawing crowds and swaying government decisions. Salafi militants also have blocked roads, burned churches and killed Copts.
The Salafi vigilantes who brutalized Mr. Mitri later ignited a bigger controversy that is still playing out here in Qena, an upper Nile governorate of three million people—almost one-third of them Copts. In April, Egypt's new government appointed a Christian to be Qena's new governor, replacing another Christian who had held the post under Mr. Mubarak. The Salafis responded by demanding a Muslim governor and organizing mass protests, showcasing the movement's new political influence.
The crisis in Qena, still not fully resolved, raises questions about what kind of Egypt will emerge from the post-revolutionary chaos—and whether its revolution will adhere to the ideals of democracy and equality that inspired it. The country's military rulers and liberal forces may ultimately succeed at containing religious strife and limiting the Islamists' political power....