SUDAN ON PATH TO DEMOCRACY
Activists in Sudan have welcomed a decision by the country’s transitional government to dissolve the former ruling party and repeal a series of laws used to regulate women’s behaviour under the former president Omar al-Bashir.
The two measures are in response to key demands by pro-democracy campaigners and were announced late on Thursday night.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the campaign to oust Bashir, said they were “an important step on the path to building a democratic civilian state”.
Yosra Fuad, a women’s rights activist in Khartoum and veteran campaigner against the public order laws, said the move to abrogate the public order laws was “a success for the women’s rights movement and for everyone in Sudan.
“These laws were used to designed to intentionally oppress women … Abolishing them means a step forward for the revolution in which masses of women have participated. It’s a very victorious moment for all of us, and I’m hoping to see more from our transitional government.
Under Bashir, the laws were deployed to impose conservative Islamic social codes, restricting women’s freedom of dress, movement, association, work and study.
This could include preventing women from wearing trousers or leaving their hair uncovered in public, or mixing with men other than their husbands or an immediate relative.
Those found to have contravened the law could be punished with flogging. The prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, called the rules “an instrument of exploitation, humiliation, violation, aggression on the rights of citizens”.
Hadia Hasaballah, a rights activist, said the repeal was a culmination of the courageous struggles of women for 30 years, and showed the failure of Islamist ideology. “Women martyrs deserve it,” she told Reuters.
Seif Magango of Amnesty International said: “This is a big step forward for women’s rights in Sudan. The repeal of the public order laws was long overdue. Many women were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and deprived of their rights to freedom of association and expression under this discriminatory law.
Protesters in Khartoum last month calling for the former ruling NCP to be dissolved and for former officials to be put on trial. Photograph: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters
“The transitional government must now ensure that the entire oppressive public order regime is abolished. This includes repealing the articles dictating women’s dress code that are still in the criminal law, disbanding the public order police and the dedicated courts, and abolishing flogging as a form of punishment.”
Analysts said the implementation of the measures would be a crucial test of how far transitional authorities were willing or able to go to overturn nearly three decades of bloody and repressive rule by Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup.
“As ever the question in Sudan is: is this going to be superficial and cosmetic or can the core of the regime remain?” said Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African politics at Birmingham University.
The law to dissolve Bashir’s National Congress party (NCP) also allows for the party’s assets to be seized, said the justice minister, Nasredeen Abdulbari. State TV described it as a measure to “dismantle” the former regime.
The NCP was founded in 1992 and ruled until Bashir left power. Heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement, the party promoted the imposition of a rigorous interpretation of Islamic law in Sudan.
Omar al-Bashir appears in court in August. He has been in detention since his overthrow in April. Photograph: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP
Ibrahim Ghandour, an NCP leader and former foreign affairs minister, said the measure was “illegal, unconstitutional, undemocratic and baseless.
“This law will only add to the instability that has been created following April revolution that has been stolen by smaller leftist parties … instead of addressing the pressing economic issues that [face] most of the Sudanese.”
Ghandour said the NCP would continue exercising its rights and opposing the new law through legal and peaceful methods in order to save and protect Sudan. “They kept telling us about freedom and democracy. They failed,” he said.
The law was passed during a 14-hour meeting of Sudan’s sovereign council and cabinet. There were disputes over an article that bans those who took leading posts in the former regime from practising politics, sources with knowledge of the proceedings told Reuters.
A key priority for the pro-democracy campaigners has been to bring former members of Bashir’s regime to justice – a process supposedly guaranteed in the country’s new constitutional charter.
Hamdok said on Twitter that the dissolution of the NCP was not an act of revenge but was aimed at preserving the “dignity of the Sudanese people”.
The information minister, Faisal Mohamed Saleh, said the law was intended to “establish a new era”.
Cheeseman said there was a danger that the dissolution of the NCP could simply be a “savvy move” allowing the party to be “rebadged as something new and shiny”.
In the capital, Khartoum, some drivers hooted car horns in celebration after the late-night announcement, while others exchanged slogans from the uprising on social media.
Hamdok’s government was formed in September after a power-sharing deal between anti-Bashir groups and the Transitional Military Council that ruled the country immediately after Bashir’s overthrow.
The transitional authorities are due to hold power for just over three years before elections.