SLUG: 5-47227 Iran - Social Life DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: It has been four years since Mohamed Khatami was elected Iran's president on a platform advocating political, economic and social reform in the Iranian revolution. Six months from now there will be new presidential elections and President Khatami is expected to be re-elected. But many Iranians are frustrated over the slow pace of reform, and some young people are pushing for change at the street level. Correspondent Scott Bobb visited Iran recently and filed this report on the situation.

TEXT: Jila strolls past the chic boutiques of Vanak street in a wealthy part of Tehran. She is wearing a beige overcoat and a colorful scarf pulled back on her head to reveal a wave of dark long hair. She's wearing sandals through which peek brightly painted toenails.


At a street corner, she meets up with several girl friends and some young men. They shake hands and head for a trendy coffee shop, where they may practice their English and talk about Western TV shows they watch on their family satellite dishes. A few kilometers away, Ahmad is sitting at a computer terminal in an Internet cafe in downtown Tehran.


Ahmad has paid several dollars for an hour's worth of access to the Internet. He's downloading the latest international pop tunes. Up the street, patrons of the arts are celebrating the first anniversary of Tehran's Music House.


The elegantly appointed concert hall sponsors regular recitals of classical Western and traditional Iranian music. A few years ago Iranians could not listen to music in public, and Jila risked spending a night in jail for her activities. But since the election of reformist President Mohammed Khatami, life has gradually become a bit easier for young people in Iran.

Across the country, but especially among the wealthier urban classes, women and young people are pushing back years of restrictions on public dress, entertainment and social interaction. Couples are now seen in public holding hands or sitting arm in arm on park benches.

/// OPT /// Economist and former central bank official, Ali Rashidi, says President Khatami's reforms have been successful primarily at the social level.


President Khatami has emphasized the social and political reform and he has been successful in bringing about a more free environment.

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Veteran politician and leader of the Freedom Movement Party, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, says there has been a marked relaxation of restrictions on social interaction between young men and women.

/// YAZDI ACT ///

Probably that is because many rightists and opponents of the reform movement in Iran, they wanted to follow the Chinese model - in a sense, suppress the political activities, relax the social relations, and then emphasize the economic development.

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Many observers note this new social freedom has been prompted in part because the Khatami government's political reforms have been frustrated.

Following the reformist landslide in parliamentary elections last February, conservative religious politicians struck back. Using the government agencies they still control, like the judiciary and security services, they closed almost all the reformist newspapers and imprisoned a number of prominent liberal journalists.

Iranians say the Khatami government's economic reform program has also been frustrated because of vested interests in state-owned corporations and religious foundations that control most of the economy. As a result, they say the only outlet for rising frustration among the people has been greater social freedom.

/// REST OPT ///

A professor of political science at Tehran University, Sadegh Zibakalam, says developments over the past 20 years in Iran made social change inevitable.


A lot of things have changed. Many Iranians are educated nowadays. There is a revolution of information. There is Internet. There is satellite. There is travelling.

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Professor Zibakalam says, nevertheless, change will take some time. He notes politics in Iran is mixed with religion and that makes it even more complicated. He warns there could be a reaction if the reformists push too hard.

/// 2nd ZIBAKALAM ACT ///

When we have moved too boldly and too radically, when we have tried to jump too far ahead, in fact, we've moved one step backward.

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Nevertheless, reformist leaders remain optimistic. They note they have won control over virtually every elected body in government. And they say social pressure has created a momentum that even conservatives now acknowledge.

What they are waiting for is a new kind of conservative, what they call a rational conservative, with whom they can debate proposed reforms to Iranian politics and economy.

They say given the 23 centuries of despotism in Iran's past, a few years is not a long time to wait for such change. The question is whether young Iranians like Jila and Ahmad, who are eager to be a part of the latest trends in the new global culture, will agree. (Signed)