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GAZA: Has Hamas unofficially imposed Islamic dress code on students?

August 24, 2009 |  7:26 am

Gaza girls

Educators in the Gaza Strip have begun enforcing an unofficial decree by the Hamas leadership requiring high school girls to wear Islamic dress, despite Hamas Education Minister Muhammad Asqoul denying such a policy as recently as two days ago, Arab news outlets reported.

"Palestinian society is committed by nature and does not need decrees to force it to be so," Asqoul said, according to a front-page report by Qays Safadi in the left-leaning Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar (Arabic link). Asqoul went on to describe the media furor surrounding the decision as a "tempest in a teapot."

But, as Safadi points out, Asqoul's comments directly contradict the signs posted outside schools informing girls that this year they are required to wear dark blue robes, a white headscarf and black or white shoes.

The paper went on to quote Mahmoud Abu Hadira, director of education for western Gaza, saying the  uniforms are part of a new effort to "feminize" schools, which also would require the removal of male teachers from classrooms.

Abu Ahmed, a 55-year-old teacher, told Safadi the decision was "unjust" and "arbitrary." Some parents have threatened to send their daughters to private schools.

Education officials initially said they would not require uniforms, which would be an additional financial burden on Gaza families. Since the war between Hamas and Israel in December, economic conditions have worsened in Gaza, and many families struggle to supply their children with the requisite pen and paper, let alone new clothes.

The contradiction between Hamas officials' statements and reports coming out of Gaza may indicate the party's desire to revive Islamic mores without drawing international criticism and thus bolstering its rival, Fatah.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Girls wearing Islamic dress outside a school in Gaza. Credit: Mahmoud Homs / AFP