With Iran's Islamic revolution now 20 years in the past, a young
generation has arisen in Iran that doesn't see the 1979 events the
same way as their elders. And with young people making up about half
of Iran's population, Iran's leaders have taken notice.
Now both sides - reformists, including President Mohamed Khatami,
who has a long history of support among the youth, and hard-liners
advocating strict Islamic rule - are trying to woo this young
"The clergy feel they are losing ground. They counted on popular
support because in the past they had a close link with the masses,
but they misjudged that popularity," says Ibrahim Yazdi, an
opposition leader today who was chosen by supreme leader Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 to be Iran's foreign minister.
At a Tehran sports hall Tuesday, 12,000 schoolchildren listened to
Mr. Khatami. "Poisonous winds are blowing inside and outside the
country and enemies are attempting to separate you from the Islamic
Revolution," local newspapers quoted him as saying.
"The youth played the most important part in the last presidential
election.... Today, the revolution and the system must trust the
Hanging over the students was a banner quoting Ayatollah Khomeini:
"With your power, youth, this country must be reformed."
Khatami's landslide election victory in 1997 tapped into
dissatisfaction and garnered almost total support among women and
young voters. He has called for fostering a "civil society" based on
the "rule of law," loosening up strict Islamic social restrictions,
and possibly reopening Iran to the West.
Indeed, Khatami has just made plans to make the first trip by an
Iranian president to Western Europe since the 1979 revolution.
Iran's foreign minister announced Wednesday that Khatami will visit
France this spring.
But Khatami's election may have raised hopes of change to almost
impossible levels, Iranians say. Khatami's reform promises are seen
to have been thwarted by hard-liners who suggest that the young
should spend more time in the mosque. Many youths, meanwhile, are
increasingly fascinated by Western culture.
Compounding Iran's difficulties is the faltering economy, which is
staggering under the lowest oil prices in years. There is also
widespread corruption and an impenetrable bureaucracy.
"The oil crisis means that any hope of improvement must be
postponed for two to three years," says a Western diplomat. "The
feeling of dissatisfaction could send people into the street."
These conditions are the backdrop for the revolution's 20th
anniversary - harking back to when Western influence in Iran was
snuffed out and the despised US-backed shah of Iran was overthrown. …