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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 17:10 GMT
Postcards from Iran: Tehran party
In the run-up to parliamentary elections in Iran, Pooneh Ghoddoosi of the BBC Persian Service gives a snapshot of an aspect of contemporary life in the Islamic Republic.

Party in Iran
Partygoers wear western clothes and enjoy western music

On a recent trip home to Tehran I was invited to a birthday party. When I arrived I found the 70 or so guests wearing fancy dress and dancing to the latest Western pop music.

The party goers were all young and from well-to-do families. One was dressed as Tarzan, another as a pilot from the film "Top Gun".

Assorted "ayatollahs" and "mullahs" were whirling drunkenly under the strobe lights. A girl in a black chador, flung it off to reveal a skin-tight Cat Woman costume underneath.

In the middle of the fray, a waiter with a bow tie was trying to manoeuvre through the crowd, balancing a tray filled with glasses of wine, gin, vodka and whisky.

The partygoers seemed not just to be defying the authorities, but actively poking fun at them.

Drugs and alcohol

Iran is a young country. Sixty per cent of the population are under 35. Most can barely remember the revolution, yet alone what life was like under the Shah.

Smugglers preparing to take alcohol into Iran
Alcohol is smuggled into Iran and available on the black market
They've grown up in a country full of oppressive laws governing every aspect of life. But as I saw at the fancy dress party, they've become experts at finding ways to subvert and push back the rules.

Under Islamic law, it's forbidden for people of the opposite sex to be seen together either in public or at parties, unless they are related.

In the early days after the revolution this was strictly enforced by the revolutionary guards. But not anymore. Boys and girls now openly walk hand in hand through the streets.

Dress codes are also no longer rigorously enforced. Young girls have exchanged their shapeless black chadors, for short, tight coats with jeans and platform shoes.

Despite the ban on alcohol, homemade wine, smuggled beer and spirits are now widely available.

So are drugs. Not just heroin smuggled in from neighbouring Afghanistan, but designer drugs like ecstasy and cocaine.

If you have money in Tehran these days, it seems that anything is possible.

'Lose Yourself'

Six years ago, when President Khatami swept to power in a landslide victory, it was thanks largely to the support of the nation's youth.

Iranian girls at a charity event
Black chadors have been swapped for tightly-fitting coats
But their hopes for reform have been dashed and there's now a widespread feeling of disillusionment. Young Iranians no longer believe in politics.

In fact you sometimes get the feeling they no longer believe in anything except having fun and trying not to think about tomorrow.

The Tehran fancy dress party was taking place against a background of one of the worst political crises in Iran in the past 20 years.

The hardliners had just banned hundreds of reformist MPs from taking part in the forthcoming parliamentary election. I asked one party-goer what he thought about it all.

"Actually I'm more interested in trying to remember the words to Eminem's latest song," he said, and launched into an impromptu version of "Lose Yourself".

At that moment there was a knock on the door. It was the Revolutionary Guards, wanting to know why there were so many cars in the street.

I was terrified, but needn't have worried. One of the party guests, dressed as a mullah, told them it was a religious gathering and slipped them some money to leave us alone.

They did, but as the party continued I wondered what it said about the state of the revolution. Who was the more cynical - the Islamic vigilantes who took the money, or the fancy dress cleric who offered it?


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