25 years after the Islamic Revolution: Anger and despair among Iran's youth
- Monday February 9, 2004
Anger grows among children of Iran's 25-year-old revolution
By Dan De Luce in Tehran
They slice through traffic on their motorbikes, racing each other at
breakneck speed while holding their mobile phones. They listen to
heavy metal, read Günter Grass and admire Tom Cruise. They don't go
to the mosque the way their parents did, and they have given up on
A third of Iran's 65 million people are aged between 15 and 30,
struggling to find jobs, queuing for visas, and frustrated with the
theocracy they have inherited.
As Iran this week marks the 25th anniversary of the revolution that
toppled a monarchy and delivered clerical rule, members of
the "third generation" won't be celebrating an event that they don't
"It was a futile revolution," says Sohrab, who is as young as the
Islamic Republic. "It brought nothing but harm for the people."
He speaks amid the roar of traffic and choking pollution in the
working-class district of Shoosh in south Tehran, a place where the
revolution enjoyed enthusiastic support in 1979.
Now Sohrab and his friends blame the clergy for Iran's
troubles. "You cannot accuse anyone else," he says. "The revolution
was in their hands, they made it happen. They were responsible. They
started with a slogan of Islam, but they betrayed Islam."
He complains about the social restrictions that make having a
girlfriend a clandestine project; the risks of speaking out publicly
against the theocracy; the inflation that eats away at his wages;
corruption; and his country's pariah status. "Ask me what doesn't
bother me," he says.
He worries about friends who have turned to drugs. More than a
million young Iranians are addicts, and hundreds of thousands of
young men are in jail for drug offences.
With the clergy so deeply identified with politics, young people are
turning away from religion, he says. "After all this, do you expect
us to go to mosque and listen to them?"
Like his peers, he wears his hair long and slicked back with gel. He
has a "hidden friendship" with a girl; "people have learned to do
everything they want in society behind closed doors". He adds: "We
are human beings. It's natural."
Although he failed to secure a coveted place at university, he says
he is lucky, because he works for his father's small transport
business. His friends are scraping by and desperately seeking decent
Hoping for real change, Sohrab, along with millions of other young
Iranians, voted for reformists four years ago in parliamentary
elections. But the reformist majority was overruled in a system that
gives final authority to appointed ideologues.
"They know how to fool us" he says. "I had a lot of enthusiasm at
the time. But I won't vote again. Even if my father becomes a
candidate, I won't vote."
At Tehran University, where student unrest in the 70s helped force
the Shah from power, Islamic militancy lost its appeal long ago.
"The ideas of that time are now outdated," says Hooshang, an
electrical engineering student. "Politically, we can't speak out. If
we speak freely, they'll compile a file on us."
Some students who have dared to speak out have been imprisoned or
summoned to court. One of them, Ahmad Batebi, appeared in a dramatic
photograph on the cover of the Economist in 1999, holding up the
bloodied T-shirt of a classmate beaten by vigilantes. Batebi was
convicted of endangering national security and remains behind bars.
Apart from student leaders and a few young journalists, most
Iranians are tuning out of politics. They are focusing on finding a
job or an emigration visa, or the next heroin fix.
Unable to contain the vast youth population, the Iranian
establishment has been forced to grant a limited degree of social
freedom, allowing couples to hold hands on the street, spicing up
programming on state television and permitting concerts and billiard
Journalists say the leadership hopes to follow China's example,
easing social and economic restrictions while holding on firmly to
Among young couples sharing ice cream at a shopping centre, there is
no gratitude for the new social allowances.
"It's not a matter of tolerance. They were forced to act because
society was about to explode," says Sadjad, 19, a university
"We are not the youth of 10 years ago and we have more access to the
rest of the world, so they have to give us more freedom."
His girlfriend Mara says the concessions are meaningless. "Freedom
is not only about going with your friend hand-in-hand. It's being
able to speak freely, even in front of a policeman."
After Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the founder of the Islamic
republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, called on families to produce
children for the defence of Islam and the revolution.
But instead of being disciples of the cause, the generation now
coming of age poses a daunting challenge to the survival of his