Iran's children of the revolution learn to bend the
TEHRAN, May 21 (AFP) - Reza has never known Iran other than under the
rule of the mullahs. But that doesn't stop him sporting a Nike baseball
cap, and feeling no different from any other 18-year-old the world over
-- thanks to the black market, and a little stretching of the Islamic rules.
You can get more or less everything you need to enjoy your evening
Western-style in Tehran if you know how to go about it. "The easiest
thing is the music," grinned Reza.
Every day he goes to kill time in Tehran's up-market shopping district
of Shahrak-e-Qods, where the shops are bulging with clothes of all styles,
from the black Islamic coat to short skirts and jeans, along with shoes
and accessories in the latest European and American fashions.
Loudspeakers regularly blare out warnings telling women window-shoppers
to pull their veils tighter, while members of the religious police stalk
the alleyways making sure that shoppers are obeying the rules laid down
by the Islamic law that has been in force since the 1979 revolution.
Those rules state that women cannot go out unless they are veiled and
wearing the long Islamic coat. They forbid unmarried couples to hold hands
in public. They ban alcohol, "overly permissive" modern music
and mixed-sex education and punish adultery by stoning.
In the elections of May 23, 1997 Reza, like most young people, voted
for the moderate Mohammad Khatami. Half of Iran's population of 60 million
are currently aged under 20, and the youth vote was an important factor
in Khatami's victory.
"Things have got better since he was elected," said Reza.
"We are a bit freer, particularly as far as clothes are concerned.
You have to be in, otherwise everyone will write you off as sad."
When Reza isn't strolling round the shopping mall, he is watching the
US music channel, MTV, or Turkish television, whose programmes are picked
up illegally by the countless satellite dishes discreetly hidden all over
Tehran in defiance of a 1995 ban.
As far as his friend Hamzeh, 19, is concerned, the most difficult thing
is to meet girls of his age without getting into trouble with the police.
"Usually you start by making contact by phone. My parents let me
invite her to our house. The main thing is not to be discovered and end
up at the police station," he explained.
An unrelated couple is indeed likely to be hassled by the police. Hamza,
who has a carefully styled beard, has already had a run-in with the police
because they considered his hair to be too long.
Given that there are no night clubs, the best way to meet members of
the opposite sex is still in little parties discreetly arranged at home.
Off come the Islamic coats and veils, glasses fill up with black market
whisky, and foreign music bought under the counter sets the atmosphere.
For Mehdi, 19, another shopping mall addict, Canada is his ideal of
But he would not think of leaving his native country unless he fails
the highly competitive university entrance exam, or does not manage to
find work because of Iran's high unemployment rate -- put officially at
Reza, Hamzeh and Mehdi all say they are "grateful" for the
relative flexibility they have enjoyed in their daily lives since Khatami
came to power.
"So long as we are a little bit careful, everything we want we
can have," said Reza. "The hardest thing to find is freedom."