In Egypt, after watching warily from the sidelines of the revolution, Salafists have embraced their role in the new democracy. They launched a dozen television channels and, in upcoming elections, could build on their 25 percent parliamentary minority, allowing them to pressure the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government to appoint more Salafist cabinet ministers.

In Libya, private militias operating in the security vacuum are using firepower, or the threat of it, to advance ultraconservative Salafist agendas. One, Ansar al-Sharia, has been accused of involvement in the September attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

In Tunisia, many Salafists now proudly don robes and beards but eschew democratic participation, and a small but vocal minority has staged high-profile attacks on art shows, bars and other displays of what they deem un-Islamic behavior. Others say they are seeking to transform society by proselytizing about Islam and its incompatibility with democracy, undercutting an Islamist-led government that has explicitly rejected sharia law…

“We will establish the Islamic dream, which is a caliphate state. We have a book to spread our ideas and a sword to defend the ideas,” said Bilel Chaouachi, a 26-year-old theology graduate student in Tunis, who said he lists Osama bin Laden among his spiritual leaders.

His studies, he said, led him to conclude that Muslim countries’ failures were due to their distance from Islam, and that “secularism and moderate Islam are not the real Islam.”