A tussle over trousers in Sudan

September 7, 2009

One moment everything was quiet on the streets outside the Khartoum courtroom where Lubna Hussein was on trial this morning, charged with indecency for wearing trousers.

The next, a three-way fight had exploded between riot police armed with crackling electric batons, women’s rights protesters waving banners and posters, and Islamists fuelled with righteous indignation and pious chants.

You couldn’t have asked for a better illustration of the opposing forces that have come piling down on Sudan’s government since the start of the case — opposing forces that also compete for influence at the heart of the Khartoum regime.

Women’s rights campaigners and other activists were the first to get involved after Sudan’s public order police barged into a party in the capital in July and found Lubna and 12 other female guests wearing trousers.

The activists saw it as a test case for the hundreds of women who get picked up every year in Khartoum, and face flogging for a range of for public order offences, mostly related to dress. Punishments aside, may women also complain about the sporadic way the law is applied and the lack of a clear definition of indecent dress.

The human rights protesters had a powerful case to make to a Sudanese government that is currently keen to cosy up to the West, in the hope of getting some of Washington’s crippling trade sanctions lifted. A highly publicised flogging would have been particularly bad news for Khartoum on Monday, two days ahead of an expected visit from the U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration.

The next group to make their presence felt at today’s protests were the Islamists who infiltrated the crowd, shouting religious slogans and tearing up women’s posters. They also had influence to wield. Sudan’s government, which once played host to Osama bin Laden, has its roots in the Islamist movement.

The next people to pile in were the police, a group with their own strong power base in a regime built on its security services. Lubna’s case in a way was a challenge to the authority of a brother force, questioning the right of the public order police to arrest at will.

So what’s a judge to do with so many conflicting pressures piling up around him? No doubt he would insist his ruling today was based purely on the law. But his final judgement — a $200 fine, way below the maximum penalty of 40 lashes — certainly felt like a compromise.

For the Islamists, the law was upheld and a guilty verdict given.

For the campaigners, Lubna had her chance to publicise her case and got off with a relatively light sentence. For the police, order in the streets was restored As the last riot police moved off in their caged vans, and the last protesters dispersed, two southern Sudanese women stood no more than 100 yards away from the site of the demonstration, buying oranges from a pavement stall. Both wore tight blue jeans and close-fitting t-shirts. No-one batted an eyelid.


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Andrew, good reporting, analysis and new insights into the situation in Khartoum. I agree with your analysis of today’s events, but I don’t believe this situation is over for Lubna.

She has already said that she is going to jail, rather than pay the fine, because she wants Article 152 repealed. And she is appealing the case. Do you know the sequence of events? Does the appeal bring fine paying or jail to a halt, until the appeal process is finished?

I was in contact with Lubna’s people all am. This matter is far from resolved.

http://www.anneofcarversville.com/women- of-sudan/

Posted by Anne of Carversville | Report as abusive

I have nothing but admiration for Lubna Hussein. These repressive Laws have nothing to do with the Koran but everything to do with Bigots and Misogynists who have captured the religion and use Islam to subjugate their womenfolk. From Lubna to the 300 Women in Kabul, we have the stirrings of a reaction and given the landscape in these countries, these Women are extremely bold. And they need to be supported. I remain a little bamboozled as to how slow we have all been in the West to support what is an inalienable right.

The Muslim World is going nowhere in the c21st if they continue to quarantine their Women. They are not even in the game. Human Capital is King and and you need to empower Your Women wherever you maybe.

Lubna was highly effective at making the case and making Fools of the establishment and that is what is required. Its no different from Emily Pankhurst and that time.

Aly-Khan Satchu
Twitter alykhansatchu

Posted by Aly-Khan Satchu | Report as abusive

A government that is busy designing what women or men should wear has nothing to do. It is so ridiculous that people have to go to court and magistrates who are trained and paid dearly have to be involved in cases where no crime has been committed. Have not they had anything useful to do for the welfare of their people? Shame! Shame!

Posted by Philippe Mandangi | Report as abusive

It’s just so sad, that in this day and age, women are not equal to men in all things that matter. Any government, religion, or employer, that forces through laws and policies that hurt more than half the population of the entire world is just tragic and sad.

If mankind manages to live long enough, one day our descendants will look back on this time and see ignorant, barbaric, and just plain wrong social policy.

They will wonder how anyone could have ever believed that it was ok to treat women, so badly. That somehow it was divine proclamation, that is was the way it had to be, that is was the right thing, the best thing…AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!

Posted by Emma Brown | Report as abusive

Africa….Where are we going?

Posted by Neb | Report as abusive

The story is also a serious reminder to those of us in the west who think women have achieved great strides in equality. The right wing, with their attacks on women’s right to choose, and the economic inequities during the slide, by which women face the most risks.. This kind of extremism is one breath away from us all. People do not have to be Muslims to foster it.

Posted by anna | Report as abusive

Woman are free in America. The Socialist Radical OBAMA will change this. He takes away more and more of our freedoms everyday. He is about to put the freedom of the internet in his sights. You should read Lord Monktons warning to the U.S at Bethel University on wednesday.

Posted by j campbell | Report as abusive

With a GDP of $1,519 per person the fine amounts to more than a months earnings. Hardly a fair ruling.

Posted by Tommy_G | Report as abusive

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