Sudan’s transitional government on Sept. 3 agreed in principle to separate religion from the state, putting an end to 30 years of Islamic rule in the country.
A declaration to adopt the principle was signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Thursday by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North political party.
"For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of 'separation of religion and state,' in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected," it continues.
The agreement is the latest in a series of steps to undo the three-decade system of strict sharia law under the rule of Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted by the military in April 2019 after months of protests against his rule.
During the dictator’s rule, Islam was the religion of the state. Al-Bashir sought to make Sudan the "vanguard of the Islamic world” when he seized power in 1989.
It was signed just days after the government initialed a deal with rebel groups in Juba, South Sudan. The peace agreement has raised hopes that conflict in Darfur and other regions of the country, which continued under al-Bashir’s rule, could be quelled. The final signing of the deal has been scheduled for Oct. 2 in the South Sudanese capital.
The Sudanese prime minister and al-Hilu have stated that they believe separating religion from the state is a necessary move to address the country’s conflicts. Sudan’s 45 million population is approximately 91 percent Muslim and 6 percent Christian.
In recent months, Sudan’s transitional government has dropped a number of Islamic laws, including eliminating penalties for apostasy—renouncing Islam—and allowing non-Muslims to drink alcohol. Officials also prohibited female genital mutilation.
While the reforms have been welcomed by human rights campaigners both domestically and internationally, they have been publicly criticized by Islamic parties in the country, including the Popular Congress Party (PCP).