It’s a normal sunny afternoon and a group of women are gathered in a local café enjoying coffee and friendly chatting when suddenly the doors of the café burst open. There’s confusion and shouting – armed men yelling and rounding people up! There’s panic and the women are wondering: has there been a murder or bomb scare? Is it a robbery? ……… No!
13 women, deemed to have broken Article 152 of the Sudanese law, which punishes anyone who "commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing", are arrested in an unusual raid by members of the Sudanese public order police force. Their crime? Wearing pants!
Of the thirteen women, ten pleaded guilty and were lashed two days after their arrest, while the other three opted to have the matter taken to court. Lubna Hussein has become the symbol for change in Sudan. Accused of indecency and violation of the Sudanese interpretation of Islamic dress code, Lubna, a journalist formerly employed by the United Nations, is currently on trial and banned from travelling out of her home town. Her immunity privileges expired once she resigned from the United Nations, making her vulnerable to prosecution. Sudanese police fired teargas and beat women protesting outside a court where Lubna was on trial, facing 40 lashes. Some of the women bravely wore trousers in solidarity with her.
Activists and lawyers say the implementation of the law is arbitrary and public order cases usually involve quick summary trials with sentences carried out shortly afterward. Lubna’s trial has been postponed until September 7.
Once again, Islamic regimes are shooting themselves in the foot. Do these countries deliberately develop media campaigns against themselves? If anything, they need to get new Public Relations officers and change their images. You would think that with Bashier facing war crimes charges in the ICC, his government would shy away from additional controversy and unwanted negative press. Lubna, of course, has made statements drawing attention to the situation in Darfur, and emphasising how much worse it might be for women from the south of Sudan.
As usual the issue will become how backward and old school Muslims are and Sudanese culture and social protocol will take a back seat. As usual Islam and Muslims on the whole will be blamed for the patriarchal interpretations of religion which homogenize with culture to form the Shariah laws practised locally. And as is becoming usual, Sarkozy is making it his personal vendetta against Islamic dress codes – does he really want all women to be prancing around with nothing more than floss to cover? Not everyone can be Carla!