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Iran: The stuggle for changeIran: The struggle for change

The role of youth The role of youth

When Iranian policy-makers decided to lower the voting age to 16 in the elections soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution, they did not foresee that in less than 20 years more than 65% of the country's population would be under 25. There are almost eight million young people eligible to vote, creating a major headache for Iran's right-wing politicians.

Iran's students played a major role in overthrowing the monarchy in 1979, and again in bringing President Khatami to power in the presidential elections in 1997. Frustrated by the limitations imposed on their lives by hardliners, they decided not to vote for the right-wing candidate. Their victory made them aware of their power and they began to defy the rules set by conservatives, becoming a powerful force supporting Mr Khatami's reform programme.

Rebellion was in the air in July 1999, when Iran was rocked by the most serious unrest for years as pro-reform students staged protests across the country. These drew a violent response from hardline vigilantes and security forces. Mr Khatami had to stand by as the hardliners, backed by the Supreme Leader and the conservative institutions of state, crushed the student protests using overwhelming force.

The heady optimism among reformists that followed Mr Khatami's election and the overwhelming victory of reformist candidates in last year's parliamentary elections has now largely faded. The promises of reform and greater personal freedoms have not come about. Instead the conservative judiciary has shut down most of the magazines and newspapers that were the main public outlets for reformist views. The judiciary's campaign against the reformists has been remarkably successful and left the president and parliament looking powerless.

Many young people are ambitious, but they are also anxious and disillusioned in the face of an uncertain future. Unemployment is high and many have lost patience with the religious restrictions on their daily life and the lack of any real reform of a political system they see as outdated and unresponsive.

Iran's changing face
Democracy and reform
The role of youth
Women and society
Relations with the West
The media
The economy
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