Gaza City, June 07: At 29, Tahani is considered a spinster by the standards of deeply conservative Gaza. So in her search for a husband, she turned for help to the best in the marriage business: the Islamic militant group Hamas.
“I gaze at all the men on the street and think, ‘Oh God, isn’t there just one for me?”, said the young woman with dark skin and honey-colored eyes, set off by a maroon headscarf. Her application is among 287 from single women in the files of the Tayseer Association for Marriage and Development in Gaza.
Photographs stapled to the files show Muslim women in headscarves, some wearing makeup, some smiling, others looking startled. They all want a husband, and the Hamas loyalists running the association are intent on finding a man for each.
Despite its fearsome reputation elsewhere, Hamas is known here for its cradle-to-grave welfare programs for the poor. It is a cornerstone of its political support in Gaza, where poverty is deepening as Israel and Egypt maintain an almost two-year blockade of the Hamas-run territory. Now, the group is branching out into matters of the heart.
“This is our vision of humanitarian work,” said Wael Zard, director of the Tayseer association. “This makes people close to Hamas and makes Hamas close to the people.”
While Tayseer’s matchmaking service helps both men and women, it is particularly important for women since staying single is a cruel fate for them in Gaza. They are often treated as unpaid maids by their extended families and, says Gaza sociologist Naser Mahdi, increasing economic hardship has made the marriage market even harsher.
The dwindling number of middle-class men with steady incomes can have their pick of the prettiest women, leaving others to work hard to find a suitable husband. Meanwhile, poor families are reluctant to marry off working daughters, hoping to keep their salaries.