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Sudan Introduces Wide-Reaching Reforms To Move Away From Strict Islamist Rule

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Sudan's transitional government has announced wide-reaching reforms as it works to move away from strict Islamist rule. Among the new changes, public flogging will be banned, and non-Muslims will be allowed to drink alcohol. The move comes a year after the overthrow of Sudan's long-serving autocrat. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us now to talk about those reforms.

Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: These reforms seem pretty dramatic. What more can you tell us about them?

PERALTA: So there's a few of them. One of them removes the death penalty for renouncing the Islamic faith or any of its core tenets. And now in Sudan, non-Muslims are allowed to legally drink alcohol. There were also a few changes to do with women. Female genital mutilation, FGM, has been outlawed. And Sudanese women will no longer need a permit from a male family member to travel with their children.

And these are indeed dramatic changes. Remember, sharia law was instituted in the early '80s in Sudan. And over the years, morality police have been known to publicly flog women for really small things like wearing pants or not wearing a veil. So these reforms are a big deal.

MCCAMMON: And what is motivating these reforms, and why are they happening now?

PERALTA: So I mean, these were reforms that were promised more than a year ago when hundreds of thousands of people went out to the streets to protest and Omar al-Bashir was ousted by his military.

MCCAMMON: As we've mentioned, Sudan's longtime ruler was overthrown after months of popular protests. He's gone, but the protests are continuing. What do the protesters want?

PERALTA: So they want this transitional government to hurry up. Look. I was in Sudan just after Omar al-Bashir was ousted, and the atmosphere was exhilarating. At this huge sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum, everything seemed possible. Women and men were hanging out together. Women were leading protests. Bob Marley was playing, and you could smell marijuana - pot everywhere. This place was a vision of a new Sudan. But security forces broke it up violently. They killed more than a hundred people.

Today I called Areej Zarrouq (ph). She's a Sudanese filmmaker who used to hang out at the sit-in. And she says that dream of a new Sudan is still there. It's been slow, and it's been difficult. But the reforms that were just announced, she says - they are a window into that world. Let's listen.

AREEJ ZARROUQ: I would say this is a window, but you - I can't deny that we have ambitions that it could sort of evolve into becoming a door and then a gate, you know, not just this little window.

PERALTA: So the bottom line is they want more. They want to blow open the gates and enter into a new, progressive Sudan.

MCCAMMON: And Eyder, a year after the overthrow now, Sudan is still being led by a transitional government. How is that going?

PERALTA: It's been tough. Sudan is a huge country with so many problems. You have tensions between the more liberal civilians and the conservative military. And then you have this unrest in the western region of Sudan. The government has been trying to come to some peace agreement with different rebels, but that has been elusive. And just today, we are getting word that protesters were killed in Darfur. They had set up a sit-in calling for an end to the violence in the region. And according to activists, military militias moved in, and they killed 13 protesters.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi, Kenya.

Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.