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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une société de paradoxes, en ébullition

by Patrick Gromillon

Iran: A Society of Paradoxes in Turmoil

Translated Tuesday 5 September 2006, by B. G.

Iranian civil society is opening up and contiues to change, faced with the regime but also with a western world whose diktats are not appreciated.

Tehran, special correspondent.

Iran is the land of dualism. The ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, (whose festivals, such as Norouz - New Year or the first day of Spring, are more widely celebrated than those of Shi’ism to the great displeasure of the Mullahs) celebrated both a good and bad deity. The good God, Ahura Mazda, won over, and montheism was imposed.

Clichés, lies, and worn-out combinations of both, continue to circulate about Iranian society- few countries are so open -but Iranian society perpetuates this dualism. Iranians are not schizophrenic, fortunately. But they are forced to make allowances. On one hand they have a regime with authoritarian laws which they cannot manage to shake off, and which they have to pretend to go along with and suffer accordingly. On the other hand is their everyday life, full of modernity, chaotic development and a younger generation in turmoil. There are immense social problems such as youth unemployment. Gaps in salaries and standard of living are widening in this capitalist country in disguise, where property speculation is beating all records.

The average wage of 200,000 tomans -about 200 Euros - does not allow a decent lifestyle. Last Mayday a large demonstration took place, mainly in Tehran, of textile factory workers, against low wages and, especially, lack of job security.

Political repression continues. Several journalists have been imprisoned (to top it all even the government paper, "Iran", has been suspended) and a philosopher, Ramin Jahanbeglou, an expert on Levinas and Ricoeur, was jailed since April and only released yesterday.

Theoretically almost everything is banned, but the enthusiasm of youth and the lure of profits ensure that practically any product, especially western, is available in the bazaars of Tehran, Isfahan or Tabriz.

So copies of American or French movies not yet released in France can be bought for 1000 tomams (1 Euro).

It’s the same story for banned Iranian films."Off-side", by Jafar Panahi tells of the dramatic but hilarious adventures of girls disguised as boys in order to take part in an Iran vs. Bahrain soccer match. The work is banned from the big screen, but widely sold, and the author could be up for a prize at the forthcoming Cannes Film Festival.

Foreign TV programmes are normally banned. In fact, in Tehran, more than half of all homes own a satellite dish, some receiving more than a thousand channels!

This year the regime has had one satisfying success: its most prized TV show, keeps 30 of Iran’s 70 million people holding their breath for three quarters of an hour every evening at 8.45pm. "Narguez" is a family saga of frustrated love between the youngsters Nasrin and Behrouz, yet in keeping with the most irreproachable standards of Islamic morality.

Tough Laws for Women

Iran knows these paradoxes well. Despite the veil, women are taking up more and more of a place in society. They are by far the majority in universities and higher education. Increasing numbers are engineers, doctors, lawyers and company directors.

But the law is hard on them. Getting a divorce is a real achievement, and all children over two are entrusted to the care of the father, without exception.

Despite desperate endeavours by their new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, [sp: - trans] women have preserved, even increased the steps obtained under Mohammad Khatami towards a softening of dress regulations. From now on, they will be allowed to wear what was unthinkable five years ago: a simple tunic falling to mid-thigh, and trousers. The Islamic burqa is not required. Hair is hidden less and less. And in their tens of thousands, Iranians are resorting to cosmetic surgery.

Palpable Tension

Sadly, used as they are to war, Iranians know that a new conflict could flare up over Lebanon or the nuclear issue. They will keenly question a foreign guest on the risks their country is incurring, but that isn’t the main topic of conversation. You can sense a certain amount of tension. If the issue of Lebanon and support for Hizbollah, created by Iranian initiative in 1983, fails to stir them much, most Iranians take exception to what they call the "West’s determination" to prevent them from enriching uranium. Their incomprehension is comparable to that which led those same Westerners to support Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a war where the UN designated Iran, in 1992, as the attacked side. "Israel, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. Why these threats against Iran?" is the most widely shared analysis. They also state that Hizbollah by no means lost the war and that the new Iraqi government is run by the Dawa, a party supported by Iran for decades.

Nearly thirty years after a revolution which shook the world, Iranian civil society seeks to affirm itself more and more, faced with the regime, and faced with an outside world unaware of its existence.

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