Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 11:42 GMT
Iran's youth: Force for change

Iranian student protest
Iranian students: Taking to the streets

Iran's general elections has turned the country's focus sharply on the nation's young people.

A whole new generation has been born and grown up since the previous generation helped bring about the Islamic revolution 21 years ago.

Young people have little fun. They follow us and try to restrict us
'Sam' from Tehran
Two thirds of the population are under 30 and many of them are fed up with the restrictions on their daily lives.

They helped vote the reformist president Mohammad Khatami into office in a surprise landslide victory nearly three years ago

They have now strengthened the movement for change by helping his supporters wrest control of parliament from the conservatives.


At Tehran University, students are still hurting after the incident last July, when riot police and right-wing vigilantes stormed and ransacked their dormitory.

Iranian demonstrator Young people are demanding more freedoms
''They came with violence, they broke everything they could,'' says one student. ''On that night, the dignity of the University of Tehran was broken.''

Several days of rioting followed, ruthlessly put down by security forces. President Khatami did not intervene. But students do not necessarily hold that against him.

''We must pay for everything we get, and that was the payment for liberty,'' says another student whose belongings were burnt in the attack.

He says they want more freedom and believes most students think Mr Khatami is the man to deliver it.

Khatami's supporters

But it is as hard to generalise about Iranian students as it is about the rest of the country.

Nothing really has changed. I still can't have many obvious things - basic human rights
Iranian student
Even among Mr Khatami's supporters there is a wide variety of opinions.

''Some of them want an alternative regime, but because they see that there's no better choice, they hope Khatami will lead to such a thing,'' explains one student.

''Some of them are good Muslims and they want some kind of moderate or enlightened version of Islam.

''And some of them are really supporters of the regime but they're somehow disappointed with the previous governments.''


Many young people say they are disappointed with the slow pace of reform.

''Khatami doesn't really believe in any change,'' says a second student. ''The way the president speaks has changed. But nothing really has changed. I still can't have so many obvious things - basic human rights.

Student protest in Iran Tehran protests: The worst unrest since the revolution
''I believe even Khat and the whole system knows that even a minimum of freedom being given to people could sweep them all away, not just conservatives but all of them, Khatami included.

''That's why I say nothing has really changed, because Khat himself believes that nothing should change.''

Another student says there have been changes, but they are superficial.

''I think they've been given as just sops,'' he adds. ''We have a freer press, but even these people writing in this freer press still have some links with the regime, or a good revolutionary record.

''But people belonging to the unofficial opposition or other nationalist groups are as unprotected as before. They are arrested as usual, they get disappeared as usual.''

Relative freedom

If there is one word that sums up young people's demands, it is freedom.

On Friday, the Iranian weekend, hundreds of young people go up to the mountains overlooking Tehran. Up there they can find a freedom which they lack in the big city.

Free press protest Students are angry at the clamp down on press freedom
There are boys with long hair, mingling freely with girls whose headscarves tend to slip more than a little. But even up there, the freedom they find, is relative.

''No, it's not free,'' says a young man who calls himself Sam. ''They are here to impose Islamic laws, and those who are not complying, they arrest them.

''A lot of people bring musical instruments, they dance and sing. But if the policemen come, they confiscate the instruments, arrest people etcetera.

''We've come here, young people, who have no other fun. But they follow us and try to restrict us.''

Some young people have been disillusioned with the slow pace of change under President Khatami. But many turned out to vote, convinced that this was a chance to help him bring about the changes they want.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Middle East Contents

Country profiles

See also:
11 Nov 99 |  Middle East
The protests which shook Iran: Special Report
15 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: Student power in Iran
15 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Eyewitness: Taking to the streets of Tehran
13 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Iranian students take to the streets
12 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Khatami stirs student passions

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories