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. 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.