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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Islamic Ideology Dying, Iranians Become Bolder

TEHRAN, Iran -- Holding hands as they strolled through a fairground on a brilliant day, looking for bargains for the upcoming Persian New Year, Mariam and Reza were feeling less than sunny.


"Four times we have been checked: 'Who are you? What is your relationship to each other?''' said Mariam, 20, looking at Reza, whose 17-year-old face bore the first wisp of a mustache.


"I am his aunt,'' she said with irritation.


In Iran, it is illegal for unrelated couples to venture out in public. The morals police are everywhere and punishment can be a fine or a caning.


Like many of her generation, Mariam said she was fed up.


When the leaders of the Islamic Revolution took power 17 years ago, they believed that they could turn back the clock to a medieval Islamic world where women would cover themselves willingly and men would put devotion to God above material concerns.


But today in Iran, ideology is dying. Concern for bread-and-butter issues is pre-eminent. Most important, the youth are frustrated, restive and turning their backs on the mullahs.


Now, the 40 million or so Iranians who are younger than 25 and were brought up on revolutionary rhetoric yearn only for a better, less rigid life. Consider:


?The regime's ban on satellite television is widely flouted. Other Iranians use telephones and modems to access the Internet and exchange news freely around the globe.


?Economists estimate that the gross national product has grown, at most, at 1 percent to 2 percent annually in the 17 years since the revolution, a period in which the population has more than doubled. Inflation rages at 60 percent.


?Elections this month provided voters little choice after clerical councils screened and eliminated thousands of would-be candidates. But within the narrow choice allowed, a ticket of modernizing pragmatists appears to have won a victory over religious conservatives.


?Voices of dissent are growing bolder. Members of a small liberal opposition, the Freedom Movement, nearly made it onto the ballot. Newspaper editors have risked shutdowns, fines and lashings to publish stories of alleged corruption.


All these factors reflect youth-driven challenges to the country's governing elite. For many of the young, the highly insular nature of the ruling circle is part of the problem.


As a result, there is a sense, among college students especially, that the doors to success are closed. "They say, `Why should we study? Why should we finish college? What job is waiting for us?' ... Every year there are 50,000 college graduates, but the country cannot find jobs for even one out of five,'' said Ali Rashidi, a prominent economist.