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Islamic fundamentalists are gaining ground in pro-Western Egypt, where a massive crackdown netted some 1,500 alleged extremists this month.

Activists charting the movement's resurgence say the various fundamentalist groups, ranging from moderates to militants, agree only on their aim - the achievement of an Islamic society in the Arab world's most populous nation.The groups disagree on method, but are seeing a solid growth.

"Growing? Yes, the Islamic movement is growing," said Moslem Brotherhood member Mohammed Habib, scrawling a graph line that rose sharply across a scrap of paper and ended in an arrowhead.

The dusty university town of Assiut, 160 miles south of Cairo, is one of the movement's several strongholds. With about 35,000 students, it contains several of the resurgent Islamic trends apparent elsewhere in the Middle East, from moderate reformers to fiery revolutionaries.

"The aim is the same," said Habib. "They all want to establish an Islamic society in Egypt, with Islamic law. But their methods are very different."

Some commentators see widespread discontent over steep food price increases as providing Egypt's Islamic activists with a fertile recruiting ground.

"They've just appropriated the discontent," political analyst Saad Eddin Ibrahim said in an interview.

Because of their different tactics, the challenges the militants pose to President Hosni Mubarak's government vary widely.

The authorities have rounded up about 1,500 suspected Moslem extremists since a gunbattle between demonstrators and police at a mosque in the oasis town of Fayoum on April 7.

Those detained included Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind theologian considered by some members of Egypt's outlawed Islamic Jihad organization as their spiritual and legal mentor. His arrest led to warnings by the clandestine group that it would take reprisals if any harm came to him in prison.

Islamic Jihad members were responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and many militants are held in jail under emergency laws introduced after Sadat's killing.

Abdel-Rahman was charged and later acquitted of complicity in Sadat's assassination.

Habib said one factor in the growing popularity of Islam as an all-embracing way of life was a failure by successive governments to solve Egypt's economic problems.

"We've had many experiments and experiences in Egypt and they haven't worked very well," he said.

Prominent Cairo scholar Mohammed Abdel Qadoos said people were turning to Islam because socialism and capitalism had failed to satisfy their physical or spiritual needs.

However, several analysts regard Islamic Jihad as a security threat rather than offering a political alternative.

"It can make trouble and embarrass the authorities," said Ali Hilal Dessouki, an authority on the Islamic movement.