Lipstick and Love, But Is It the End of Islamic Iran?

Category: World Affairs Topics: Iran, Mohammad Khatami Views: 1117

by Marc Carnegie

A young Iranian couple flirts in north Tehran's Laleh park 07 June 2001, on the eve of presidential elections. Incumbent reformist president Mohammad Khatami is widely expected to win a second four-year term but his liberal agenda will face strong opposition from conservatives who hold the reins of power.

TEHRAN, June 7 (AFP) - Couples in parks hold hands, while young women stroll freely in brightly coloured lipstick and fashionable headscarves that show a few strands of hair -- but is it the end of Iran's Islamic regime?

Many Iranian conservatives think so, and put the blame squarely on one man: President Mohammad Khatami.

The moderate cleric is expected to win a second term in office on Friday, but his conservative rivals say his easing of social restrictions is starting to undermine the nation's fundamental Muslim principles.

"That's just political sloganeering," says 20-year-old Mahnaz Akbari, chatting in a park with a friend with a liberty she believes was impossible before Khatami came to office four years ago.

"My faith is still intact. But the stricter the conservatives get, the more people want their freedom," she says. "If they don't make room for us, then we will end up deciding where the limits are all by ourselves."

To be sure, the social ills of the West are starting to make their mark in the Islamic republic -- an especially worrying trend in a nation where young people make up two-thirds of the population.

Rape, murder, drug addiction and prostitution are all on the rise, and have come amid Khatami's moves to give young people what he calls an "atmosphere in which they can breathe."

The once-dreaded morals police no longer make the fervent rounds they used to, and the streets of Tehran "don't look very Muslim anymore," as one young woman put it.

Western pop music blares from cars, young couples hold hands while they sit in cafes or window-shop, and women's headscarves are falling down just as their mandatory cloaks or coats are moving up.

"Girls and boys both like to show off their beauty," conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi complained two weeks ago.

"But with the way we're heading, a fire will be sparked that will burn not only them, but will also burn society and burn the regime," he said.

With the voting age set at just 15, the youngest of those heading to the polls on Friday were only toddlers when the founder of Islamic Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, died 12 years ago.

They missed the revolutionary drama when Islamists seized the US embassy in Tehran, and have only youthful memories of the brutal "sacred defence," as the 1980-1988 war with Iraq is always officially called.

Instead they have grown up in a world of increasing globalisation, where satellite television and the Internet are providing a window onto radically different ways of living.

"It would be one thing if I were sitting with my girlfriend near a cemetery where the martyrs of the war are buried," says 21-year-old Hamed, who declined to give his full name.

"But there's nothing un-Islamic about being in a park with my girlfriend. Khatami's reforms are facing lots of stonewalling, and it's discouraging," he says.

Khatami, who has publicly complained about the conservative backlash against his liberalising reforms, has toughened his stance in the run-up to Friday's vote and now vows that change is the only way forward for Iran.

"Those who will not listen to the voice of our youth will disappear," he told some 15,000 mostly young supporters on Wednesday. "Above all they want freedom and respect."

Akbari says she thinks the 57-year-old Khatami, who remains popular despite all the criticism from hardliners, truly understands the needs of her generation.

"I don't believe this freedom is bad," she says, adding that she will cast her vote for him on Friday. "They just have to trust us."

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Iran, Mohammad Khatami
Views: 1117

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