- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

BAZARIYEH, West Bank — The militant group Hamas is bucking its Islamist roots by running female candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections, an attempt to broaden its appeal as the ruling Fatah party splinters.

“Women can talk, women can think. We need to find a way to complement her needs and desires with Islam,” said Hamas candidate Mona Mansour, whose husband was killed by Israeli forces four years ago.

“Women whose husbands have died have rights. We need to protect them,” Mrs. Mansour told a campaign rally yesterday in the hillside West Bank village of Bazariyeh.

The Islamic militants have kicked off their parliamentary campaign with a slate that features Jamila Shanti, the widow of assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

In West Bank city council elections yesterday, Hamas demonstrated its strength by winning landslide victories over Fatah in Nablus and Al Bireh, according to exit polls.

Races in Ramallah and Jenin looked like a dead heat.

As Hamas grows in popularity, the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to collapse after a series of primary elections marred by violence.

Fatah’s most popular leader, jailed militant Marwan Barghouti, tops a list of breakaway candidates submitted to Palestinian election officials for Jan. 25 parliamentary elections.

A separate round of city council elections in the West Bank earlier this year demonstrated the appeal of female candidates — an ironic twist, given that in nations such as Saudi Arabia, where Islamic law is paramount, women are not allowed to vote.

Palestinian election laws for the Jan. 25 vote reserve seats in the parliament for female legislators, ensuring a minimum representation for women in a male-dominated society.

Hamas is using female candidates, including wives and daughters of imprisoned militants, to rally Palestinian women to support them at the ballot box — a strategy that could help the opposition party close the gap with Fatah.

A survey last week showed Hamas trailing Fatah by 18 percentage points.

“During [the prophet] Muhammad’s time, the women also shared in the wars,” said Waheed Salem, a Hamas candidate running for a seat on the town council of Bazariyeh.

“So we didn’t just get this idea now, it’s like 1,500 years old,” she said.

About 200 villagers attended the rally, with the women sitting to the side in a section cordoned off by a long sheet in green, the Islamic color.

Mrs. Mansour insisted that the segregated seating arrangement was not a policy of Hamas.

“Sometimes a certain village is more strict than Islam,” she said. “What you see there is not the request of Islam. It is the request of local traditions and cultures.”

The Islamic movement, which warns Palestinians that they will be held accountable for their votes in the afterlife, has tried to reach out to constituencies that wouldn’t be considered a natural fit for Hamas, said Samih Shabeeb, a columnist for the Palestinian daily Al Ayyam.

“Hamas is a pragmatic party. Hamas even went after communists and will go after anyone that makes up a big chunk of Palestinian society and will engage any sector that is important in Palestinian society,” Mr. Shabeeb said.

“Its intention in engaging women is to engage a huge sector of society in the run-up before elections,” he said.

Dressed in a long gown with an off-white head scarf draped over her shoulders, Mrs. Mansour said she has been a social worker for 25 years as well as a teacher.

When asked whether she agreed with feminist arguments that female leaders would be more likely to solve political disputes through negotiations rather than violence, she replied, “This is also true of our movement. Women are more balanced. Everything has its right time.”

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