* Vandalism fuels debate over Islamist role after uprising
* Conservative groups deny involvement
CAIRO, April 6 (Reuters) - Egypt's religious affairs ministry on Wednesday called on security forces to strike with "a hand of steel" to stop the vandalism of shrines targeted in attacks blamed on ultra-orthodox Muslims.
An increase in attacks on shrines in Egypt is fuelling concern about the role that Islamists will play after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, who suppressed Islamist groups that he saw as a threat to his rule.
Scores of shrines have disappeared or were burnt down on the outskirts of Cairo weeks after Mubarak was toppled from power.
The attacks have awoken old tensions between Sufis, followers of a mystical Islamic tradition to whom shrines are an important part of religious practice, and ultra-conservative Salafists, who see them as idolatrous.
"It (the vandalism) violates the spirit of the Islamic sharia and whoever does this is corrupting the land and seeking to incite chaos and strife in the nation and to shake national security and its stability," reported official state news agency MENA, citing a ministry statement.
According to Egypt's penal code, people who violate the sanctity of graves or destroy property considered holy could be jailed for up to five years and fined.
Established Salafist groups in Egypt have denied any link to the attacks. Witnesses have attributed them to Salafist youths apparently acting independently.
Some accuse the media of exploiting a handful of cases to scare-monger -- playing on fears of Islamists suppressed by Mubarak to strengthen the case of conservatives seeking a return to the authoritarian ways of his regime.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Sarah Mikhail, editing by Andrew Heavens)