Surprise as Hamas appoints British-educated spokeswoman

Middle East analysts are split: does Al-Modallal represent a sign of real progress?

LAST UPDATED AT 15:32 ON Wed 13 Nov 2013

HAMAS, the Palestinian Islamist group, has surprised commentators by appointing a young, British-educated woman to present the movement's message to the international media.

Isra Al-Modallal, a 23-year-old former journalist, will serve as spokeswoman for Hamas, which is still considered a terrorist organisation by the US and EU. Commentators have come up with a range of theories to explain the group's unusual appointment:

It's a rebranding exercise

Al-Jazeera has reported that Hamas wants to rebrand itself in order to appeal more to the West. Appointing an English-speaking, make-up wearing non-Hamas member is simply part of "a long-running push by the group to present a newer and friendlier face".

The decision also comes after a significant "change in media policy" devised by the group's new head of media, Ihab Ghussein, who has embraced social media, set up a new website and hired younger staff.

It represents existing attitudes

Dr Dina Matar, author and senior lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, argues that Hamas's reputation as a misogynistic organisation is unjust. As a result, the world shouldn't be surprised by this appointment, nor should it be seen as a stunt.

"Women have always been an important part of Hamas," she tells The Independent. "Certainly this is a clever tactic but it's also not as male-dominated or homogenous as might be perceived."

It will force positive change

Shikha Dalmia, senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation disagrees with Matar. She argues that when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, it represented "a big step back for the rights of Muslim women."

But there is hope that this "hypocritical" appointment of a "liberated, Westernised career woman" in order to appease the international community could actually lead to significant change for Muslim women, she says.

"Hamas will find it difficult to allow al-Modallal to play by Western rules while forcing Gaza women to live by Sharia's rules. In the long term, whether it likes it or not, it'll be prodded to remake itself in the image it wants to project to the world," she said. · 

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