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Lessons for the Iraqi People From Sudan

The events unfolding these days in Sudan are a stark reminder to all of us that change can happen with simple tools, thanks to ordinary people who are willing to dedicate everything they have to fight for their country. Young Sudanese men and women managed to completely transform their country’s political system and bring an end to 30 years of misery under former President Omar al-Bashir. While the popular protests in Iraq were hijacked by opportunists, those in Sudan managed to galvanize the masses and bring about real social change. One of the most beautiful and iconic scenes emerging from Sudan’s demonstrations was that of Alaa Salah, who was depicted standing on top of a car while speaking to a crowd of female protesters gathered around her. Women constituted the overwhelming majority of participants in these demonstrations. They ultimately led to an agreement with the government that officially separates religion from state and guarantees freedom of worship to everyone in Sudan. For years, our politicians have been promoting decisions that silence all those who demand the establishment of a civil state. Time and again these lawmakers appear on media outlets and warn that separating religion from state will lead to more immoral behavior and indecency. But the truth is that the Sudanese experience tells us a different story: that these doomsday prophecies are nothing more than our politicians’ way of oppressing and subjugating the masses. Our politicians talk about religious morals and ideals and warn against the secularization of Iraq while the poverty rate in our cities shot up to nearly 50%. The Sudanese people lived for 30 years under the dictatorship of a religious state led by Bashir. In one moment, they succeeded in toppling him and bringing about a complete separation of religion from state institutions. Meanwhile, in Iraq, our politicians continue insisting on issuing laws that restrict our freedoms and undermine our liberties. Indeed, the very same people talking about religious norms and values are those promoting the most unethical laws that undermine our ability to build a better future for Iraq. –Ali Hussein (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)