Public celebrations were held in the Sudanese capital Khartoum this week after a meeting between the country’s Sovereign Council and the cabinet resulted in decisions to disband the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and repeal the public order law.
According to the Constitutional Declaration the Transitional Military Council and the Alliance for Freedom and Change signed on 17 August, the two bodies are in charge of drafting laws until a new legislative body is formed.
Although the declaration states that a legislative council should be formed within 90 days of its signing, the two parties have decided to postpone this until a final peace deal is concluded with the armed movements in the country.
The Sudanese people went out onto the streets at the end of last week to celebrate the decision to dissolve the NPC and repeal the public order law, two of the key demands made during the demonstrations that ousted former president Omar Al-Bashir on 11 April after he had ruled Sudan for 30 years.
The public order law was repealed in tandem with celebrations to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Al-Bashir’s regime had used the law to oppress women and restrict their freedom of dress, movement, association, work and study.
Since the law was issued in 1996, thousands of Sudanese women have been punished by flogging, jail time, or fines for “contravening the law”.
According to Amira Mahdi, a victim of the public order law interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly in 2014, more than 40,000 Sudanese women and girls have been flogged and imprisoned for violating the law.
“A 16-year-old girl died after being flogged 40 times. I was closely following her condition because I was working with the association handling her case,” Mahdi told the Weekly after the law was abolished.
During the referendum on South Sudan’s independence in January 2011, Bayan Aroub, a leading figure in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling party of South Sudan, told the Weekly that the secession had been the result of the unfair distribution of oil revenues as well as laws Khartoum said were in accordance with Islamic Sharia Law, particularly the criminal and public order laws.
“The public order law resulted in the flogging and imprisonment of thousands of women from the South because they were wearing short dresses despite the fact that they were not Muslims,” Aroub said.
However, “there is still a long way to go to get rid of the rigorous interpretation of Islamic Sharia that the Islamists imposed on Sudan,” said Fayez Al-Salik, an editor at the Sudanese Change website.
The law to dissolve Al-Bashir’s former ruling party, freeze its assets and seize its headquarters was equally celebrated on Khartoum’s streets.
Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok said that the dissolution of the NCP was not an act of revenge, but was “an act of justice aimed at preserving the dignity of the Sudanese people that had been crushed by dishonest people. The decree aims to recover the plundered wealth of the people.”
According to the law entitled “dismantling of the regime of 30 June 1989,” a committee has been formed to oversee the return of NCP funds to the public treasury and to dissolve any profit or non-profit organisation affiliated to the NCP or any of its leading figures.
The committee is headed by a Sovereign Council member, and its deputy is selected by the cabinet. It includes as members of the ministers of justice, defence and health, a representative from the Sudanese General Intelligence Service, and another from the Central Bank of Sudan, in addition to five members selected by the prime minister.
The law defines the figureheads of the NCP as “any person who has held a position in the so-called Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation or was a member of the party’s senate or leadership council, including those who held the post of president of the republic, vice-president of the republic, president of the legislative council, governor, federal minister, state minister, director of the security apparatus, public prosecutor, president of the Bar Association or chief of the judiciary or the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Sudan under the Salvation Law.”
The law prohibits NCP leaders from working in politics for at least 10 years.
It aims to eliminate what was known as the “policy of empowerment,” which is defined as “any method, work, plan or agreement to obtain public or private functions to enforce the policies of the Salvation Regime, whether by dismissal from service under the pretext of public interest, or the appointment of employees from the Salvation Regime, or their replacement to take over or control by any means existing functions, interests or institutions.”
The law abolishing the NCP also defines “empowerment” as “obtaining any privilege, exemption or opportunity to work due to organisational loyalty, political affiliation or kinship to one of the leaders of the Salvation Regime or to party leaders or individuals who carried out or assisted in seizing authority” in 1989.
Under the law, the registrar of labour organisations has the right to eliminate “the registration of the Sudanese Bar Association… and dissolve its council and the Committee for the Admission of Lawyers” and reappoint a chairman and members to oversee the administration of the association.
It also “abolishes the registration of executive committees, central committees of unions, councils of professional unions and all central and sub-syndicates established under special laws or any unions registered under any valid law,” as well as the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation.
However, Sudan’s Islamists, the NCP, former Sudanese leader Hassan Al-Turabi’s Popular Congress Party, Salafi currents and a number of smaller groups are still trying to mobilise their supporters “to keep what they took over 30 years” despite the provisions of the new law, Al-Salik said.
The NCP, basically comprising the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood, and Al-Turabi’s National Islamic Front, which supported and helped to carry out Al-Bashir’s coup against the democratically elected government of the then Sudanese leader Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi in 1989, do not recognise the present government in Sudan, claiming that it is “illegitimate”.
It is expected that the new law will leave vacant thousands of public and private-sector jobs, yet it is still unclear who will fill them.
It is also unclear who will fill the void left after disbanding the NCP and its affiliated institutions that controlled Sudan’s resources over the past 30 years.
“Civil-society institutions and the remaining parties on Sudan’s political scene, as well as public pressure, will not allow for the filling of these posts with party supporters. Efficiency and integrity will be the criteria for the appointments,” Al-Salik commented.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.