Hamas dress code aims to make Gaza more Islamic

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Police order a lingerie shop to hide its scantily clad mannequins. A judge warns female lawyers to wear head scarves in court. Beach patrols break up groups of singles and make men wear shirts.

It’s all part of a new Hamas campaign to get Gazans to adhere to a strict Muslim lifestyle — and the first clear attempt by the Islamic militants to go beyond benign persuasion in doing so.

It suggests that having consolidated its hold on Gaza in the two years since it seized control by force, Hamas feels emboldened enough to extend its ideology into people’s private lives.

Hamas insists compliance with its “virtue campaign” is still voluntary and simply responds to a Gazan preference for conservative ways. But the rules are vague and there are reports of alleged offenders being beaten and teachers being told to pressure girls to wear head scarves.

The campaign highlights the differing trajectories of the West Bank and Gaza — the two parts of the Palestinian state that the Obama administration hopes to midwife. Washington’s efforts move into higher gear this week with visits by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and three top U.S. diplomats.

While Hamas pushes its dress code and Gaza remains impoverished under international embargo, West Bankers are enjoying an economic revival fed by foreign aid. Although most are conservative, there’s more tolerance for a fairly large secular minority.


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