The Easing Of Anti-Islamist Laws In Sudan: The Start Of Something New?

Large groups of pro-Sharia supporters have taken to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, to protest recent governmental reforms they deem as “anti-Islamist.” Such reforms include allowing non-Muslims, who make up an estimated 3% in Sudan, to consume alcohol, scrapping the apostasy law and public flogging. The reforms come after the religiously conservative ruler, Omar al-Bashir, was deposed in a 2019 in a coup d’état after 30 years in power. The protesters expressed their contempt for the easing of Islamic laws by holding banners that read “No to secularism” and shouting “Hamdok, Khartoum is not New York,” the AFP news agency reports.

Announcing the changes at the beginning of July, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari said “we are keen to demolish any discrimination that was enacted by the old regime and to move toward equality of citizenship and a democratic transformation.” He claims the amendments will bring Sudanese law in line with the country’s constitutional declaration that established the transitional government a year ago, guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms under Sudan’s international commitments. 

The laws being relaxed and reformed include the apostasy law, which previously punished conversion from Islam with death. Some improvements to women’s lives include the criminalization of female genital mutilation, which is currently a widespread practice across Sudan, and abolishing the need for female travellers with children to have consent from a male guardian. Since law reform is such a contentious issue in Sudan, these changes have been criticised from many angles. Despite large protests by pro-Sharia supporters, activists have also been quick to point out that the reforms have not gone far enough to achieve the demands of the protesters who ousted al-Bashir in 2019. If the Sudanese government are to uphold the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in Sudan’s constitutional declaration, they must repeal the crime of adultery, end corporal punishment and reform personal status laws that currently discriminate against women and girls. 

The imposition of these strict Islamist laws in the 1980s played a major part in the long-running civil-war that eventually led to the independence of South Sudan, where the majority of the population are Christian. But as time has gone on, and particularly after the ousting of al-Bashir, Sudan has been attempting to make effort to improve its human rights, and drop all laws that violate such rights. The laws were initially approved in April, but they have only now taken effect.

With the international community’s eyes firmly on Sudan, it’ll be interesting to observe how they deal with both conservative and liberal opposition to the new laws. While they seem to be moving in a direction more inclusive of human rights, former allies of al-Bashir in the military who make up part of the Sudanese government, and such a vocal Muslim population may pose great threat. 

Hope Oxley Green