Hamas Leaders Enforce Sharia Law in Gaza Strip

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Poverty and isolation make life miserable enough for the more than one million people who live in Gaza. But now, after two years in control of the government, Hamas leaders there are enforcing stricter Sharia laws on Gaza residents.

The crackdown is most visible at the Gaza beaches, where Hamas patrols prevent men from going shirtless and break up groups of young singles.

At a lingerie shop, modesty police order a cover-up for the mannequins.

The campaign is evident, especially in public places.

"Every year I used to sell jeans. Now they prevented it," Gaza shopkeeper Eyad Abu Kweek said. "I had stock from last year but I was prevented from selling it. In this city, there are Muslims and Christians, but the Sharia is imposed on everyone."

When it first took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas said it would not impose the severe Islamic codes. But last month, a judge ruled that female lawyers will be banned from courtrooms if they do not wear the Hijab headscarf and the Islamic black robe.

Despite the ruling, some Gazans said there is no real crackdown.

"I've worn the Hijab throughout my life," Gaza resident Alyaa Marad said. "No one forced me to wear it. It's a gift from God and whoever wants to wear it can do it."

But others are concerned that Hamas will shut down dissent and make even more severe restrictions.

"I am afraid there are many or so far some steps that can be said in this direction," said Hamdi Shakoura of Palestinian Center for Human Rights. "Hamas is trying to impose Islamic Sharia on this society."

*Originally aired August 17, 2009.

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