Tareq Ahmed was stabbed recently by at least one of a group of knife-wielding Moslem extremists who disapproved of his behavior. Ahmed's offense had been to speak with a fellow student -- a female.

Four of about seven of the assailants have been arrested, according to authorities. Despite efforts by other Moslem fundamentalists to defend the violent action, the students of Asyut University largely have disapproved.

Moslem fundamentalism, however, appears to be on the rise in Egypt, particularly among the young. Many observers believe that the fundamentalists are the only political force capable of challenging the government of President Hosni Murbarak.

In Asyut and in the universities in Cairo, student activism could, in the opinion of both diplomats and Egyptian political commentators, provide the seeds for unpredictable and dangerous opposition to the government.

Asyut, located 230 miles south of Cairo on the banks of the Nile, traditionally has been a site of tension. Two days after the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, Moslem extremists took over the main Asyut police station. They killed 87 persons and tried to spread a Moslem revolution.

"We try to forget about that day," said one local resident.

But not everyone agrees.

"I was from the group that planned the killing of Sadat," bragged Osama Rushdy, 27, a pharmacy student who was interviewed last week in a campus cafeteria.

Rushdy is a leader here of the Jamaat, or Moslem Groups, whose members dominate the student union, despite efforts by the police to keep Moslem radicals out of the elections.

In November, names from the Moslem Groups were removed officially from the election list. But according to students and university officials, a "second line" of fundamentalists -- unknown to the police -- was added to the list and subsequently won the vote.

"The security forces didn't know anything," said Rushdy, watched by police during the interview. "God protected us from them."

The election victory was a sign of the increased influence of the fundamentalists in Asyut. Until then, their strength had been felt in other ways.

Last year, about 30 Moslem extremists destroyed the instruments of students preparing to play music at a graduation party. The police, it was said, stood by and did not interfere.

In the late 1970s, male and female students mingled freely on campus, but classes and cafeterias are now segregated according to sex, and it is rare to see men and women speaking to one another. Ahmed, himself a Moslem, spent more than two weeks in a hospital recovering from his knife wounds.

The rising influence of a small number of Moslem extremists is especially significant in Asyut because the city has a much higher percentage of Christians than the national average. About 30 percent of Asyut's population of 280,000 are Christian, compared with the norm of 10 percent.

"There is a problem that the Coptics [Christians] are more concentrated in Upper Egypt. This is the beginning of the tension," said Abdel Moubasher, vice president for higher studies and research at Asyut University. "Cairo is a big city and all these ideas are diluted in the very high population."

The riot police who patrol Asyut's streets are a reminder that potential for trouble is there. On Monday, a student was shot in the head by police while putting up posters for a fundamentalist rally. The student was flown to a military hospital in Cairo on the order of President Mubarak, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

Police closely monitor the activities of the Moslem radicals here. At a "Moslem conference" held last week at Asyut University, police listened from the window of a nearby office. Plainclothes police officers reported the names of various speakers, while an officer in uniform maintained telephone contact with his superiors.

The participants at the conference numbered about 100 and, according to observers, radical Moslem gatherings in Asyut are rarely larger. It is in spite of their limited numbers that the influence of radicals is pervasive.

"The Moslem fundamentalists are a very strong minority, but the masses of students are not organized," explained Moubasher, adding that "an organized minority is stronger than a separated majority."

Many students, while returning to traditional Moslem and Christian values, are politically apathetic, observers say. Several students said they support conservative ideas about dress and behavior, but do not support the methods of the radicals in imposing such codes.

"Their teachings are not fanatic," said one university official, "their actions are fanatic."

Mubarak's policy toward the extremists -- democratization and leniency -- is intended, in part, to allow the hard-core fundamentalists to show their true colors. It is hoped that the majority will reject what they see.

In the case of the recent stabbing in Asyut, the radicals were forced to back off from their original support for the assailants.

"The main response is coming from the students themselves," said Moubasher of the stabbing incident. "They condemned, of course, this way. This is the most important response."