As soon as I arrived in Sudan, I felt home. Being an Arab woman, especially coming from Tunisia where the revolution succeeded 8 years ago, was inspiring for the Sudanese people I met. Everywhere I filmed, I was welcome, and people even came to me to share their stories. Sudanese people felt isolated and asked me to spread the spirit of their revolution.
This film is strongly related to my previous film “Paris Stalingrad” and his main character Souleymane who is a young Darfuri teenager escaping war in his country. When the revolution started in Sudan, he wanted to take part of the uprising but it was too early for him to take the risk of heading back to his country. He was very excited I could travel there and bring him back the flavor of this revolution. I travelled filled with the desire of Souleymane and my exile Sudanese friends in Paris.
The first time I heard about Sudan, I was a child. It was in 1983. My father was working on the translation in French of the novel “Season of Migration to the North” by the great Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih. About him, he said: “this is the best Arab contemporary literature and it comes from Sudan.” My dad, the Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb wanted to bring Sudanese literature to the world’s attention. When I arrived on the sit-in, I couldn’t stop thinking of him. His best wish was “to share a free Islam, open to the difference, creative, in audacity, singularity, able to adapt to all evolutions, sovereign, in the self-assured pride of itself, humble, not afraid of itself or of the other, non-hegemonic, ally of the spirit, giving response to the problems we live, from ecology to civic awareness, antidote against fanaticism, the attack on Nature, Beauty, proposing the alliance with Beauty that is in peril in our cities as in our campaigns, praising all singularities.” (The Malady of Islam, 2002)
He always thought religion in politics was a threat for individual rights and freedom. He was thinking no revolution could succeed without including women on the political scene and in the public space. He based his work on the Ancient figures of Muslim Spirituality including Sufi women like “Saida el Adawiya” and “Saida Manubiya”.
Through his books and interviews, I felt he was still alive among us. Then, I realized I could make him dialogue with this peaceful, secular and feminist revolution currently happening in Sudan. The video of a young woman, wearing a traditional white dress, chanting “They imprisoned us in the name of religion, burned us in the name of religion … killed us in the name of religion. But Islam is innocent. Islam tells us to speak up and fight against tyrants … the bullet doesn't kill. What kills is the silence of the people.” went viral on social networks. Her name is Alaa Salah, she is a 22 architecture student and she was chanting the words of the Sudanese Poet Azhari Mohamed Ali. After that episode, the Sudanese themselves started to say: “our revolution is a woman”. The message she was sending to the world is very similar to my father’s narrative: “don’t oppress people in the name of Islam, leave them experience their own spiritual path”. The spirit of Sudanese revolution and its slogans vibrate with my father writings. It’s like his dream was becoming true. When I was in Sudan, I suddenly heard his own words in the voices of Sudanese revolutionaries. for the first time in the Arab world, I observed great tolerance for those who do not fast during Ramadan. Sudanese revolutionaries want to remove the sharia from the Constitution; they consider religion as a private matter. Massively, all rejected the use that had been made in their country of religion, an instrument of repression far from any spirituality.
About the inferior status of women in Islam, he wrote: "All those who want to follow the founding scriptures are faced with a conundrum. What can they do in the face of a [Koranic] verse which explicitly establishes the superiority of men over women, [namely] verse 34 of Sura 4, which reads: 'Men have authority over women because God has favored one over the other.’ The only solution for the women and men who [wish to follow] the Islamic faith while adapting to the modern [principle] of gender equality is to acknowledge that all Koranic edicts regarding [women's inferiority] are obsolete, and that they are rooted in historical circumstances rather than in immutable principles.”
The day after I came back home, hundreds of people were killed, where I was just filming everyday. I was under the shock. I couldn’t believe this amount of violence against peaceful civilians could happen that way, by surprise and in the indifference of the international community. I felt powerless. The only thing I could do is to share my experience of Sudanese revolution, writing, editing, trying to give a voice to those who had no other choice than to stay there, facing bullets and constant insecurity. It’s been a month, the army shut down the Internet to avoid a large coverage of the massacre.
The sit-in was destroyed but it’s still alive in my footage. While I was filming, I was surrounded with beauty. The level of solidarity, courage and determination made people shine from the inside. The sit-in was a city in the city. Microcosm of what a new Sudan would look like, if civilians ruled it. All these years of war and oppression made the people understand they want to live together with their differences. People understood how much racism was just a weapon for the dictatorship, a method to divide people and keep them in a state of oppression.