Draped in an Iranian flag, Nahid Molavi clenches her fists and
speaks with a political fervor that is supposed to have vanished
among Iran's disillusioned youth.
"I support the one who values freedom," declares the 21-year-old
history student during a rally for reformist presidential candidate
"I came because I love freedom, because we are Iranians, and we
will decide," says Ms. Molavi, who will vote in Friday's
presidential election. "This flag is sacred to all of us, and while
we are here, democracy will not die."
Ms. Molavi's conviction echoes the certitude of youth politics
that once prevailed after erupting unexpectedly in 1997 with the
overwhelming victory of President Mohammed Khatami.
Since then, however, hard-liners have blocked Mr. Khatami's
agenda - to the point where legions of fans have now given up on
reforms and angrily withdrawn from politics altogether.
Tapping into that widespread discontent, some youth leaders and
prominent dissidents are calling for an election boycott, describing
the reform project as a "failure" that proves the Islamic Republic
can't be changed from within.
But the cheering, sometimes tearful, young supporters of Mr. Moin
and other candidates - these days, a distinct minority who say they
will vote - make clear that a strain of youth politics persists. And
every campaign is targeting young people, recognizing the latent
political power in the hands of the majority under 30 years old, who
can vote from the age of 15.
"We are here for democracy, and Moin is just a tool to take us
there," says Mohsen Pahlavizadeh, a student whose thick stubble and
narrow face is the very image of a hard-line militiaman.
"We had many revolutions, and we don't want any more," says Mr.
Pahlavadeh, referring to the violent revolution of 1979 that brought
clerical rule to Iran. "We don't want any more violence. We want
change from within."
"We want to continue the way of Khatami," adds Hamid Baharlou,
another student with a headband painted with the party slogan:
'Again we make our country.' "But we want it to be more strong, and
Polls show that Moin is gaining ground on front-runner Ali Akbar
Hashemi Rafsanjani, which could lead to a second-round runoff if no
candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.
To reach that threshold and boost his credentials with youths,
Mr. Rafsanjani, a two-time former president, has even created a TV
segment that shows him in a panel discussion with young people.
The septuagenarian cracks a joke about nudity, and says that
people should follow their taste in clothes, according to reports.
"In the Islam I know ... no one would feel limited in their
instincts," said Rafsanjani, a supporter of the Shiite practice of
The cleric drew laughs when he admitted to "doing things as a
young man that I would not confess to."
On the ground, Rafsanjani campaigners ooze an impression of
openness, and try to convince doubters that it will continue after
the vote. At a campaign headquarters in Tehran's affluent Fereshdeh
neighborhood late Tuesday, a couple hundred people - most young,
some with families - cheered an outdoor concert.
For more than two decades, playing music in public has been
banned, with the exception of traditional instrumental performances. …