Iran’s president-elect signals he’s on young people’s side

President-elect Hassan Rouhani says he wants less government control in Iran over women’s dress, the Internet and mixing of the sexes.

TEHRAN — Saman, 26, is enjoying what he calls the “break,” the two-month transition before the president-elect assumes power, a period usually marked by the temporary easing of social restrictions in Iran as the nation’s next political leader readies his own policy.

Religious morality police are nowhere to be seen right now in the streets and squares of Tehran, which they usually patrol by minibus to ensure that young women aren’t wearing short coats or inadequate head coverings, and that men and women aren’t mixing.

“We don’t see any fashion police,” Saman said. “We have hope.”

Saman might have reason for optimism. President-elect Hassan Rouhani, a soft-spoken 64-year-old cleric, has denounced Internet censorship, expressed a more moderate attitude on the Islamic dress code and argued against government meddling in the private lives of Iranians.

In a recent interview with a weekly Iranian youth magazine, Rouhani called for more personal and social freedom and sharply criticized segregation between the sexes and the harassment of young people by morality police who feel they aren’t adhering to the dress code.

“I am surely against such moves,” Rouhani said in the most recent issue of the reform-oriented Chelcheragh. “I warn that defining modesty based on hijab [head covering] may be wrong. I think that many of our women do not observe the appropriate legal hijabbut they are following the codes of modesty.”

Rouhani is a longtime insider and political centrist who showed increasingly moderate attitudes in the run-up to the election, which he won by a landslide against hard-line conservatives. In his rallies, he urged throngs of young attendees to maintain their hopes, and he voiced support for protesters who took to the streets in mass demonstrations after the 2009 disputed presidential election.

In his interview with Chelcheragh, Rouhani criticized what he called a politicized approach to dealing with young people and their rights to personal freedom.

“I assure you that the ideals of the Islamic Republic of Iran did not include the suppression of joy and jubilation,” said Rouhani, who also opposes increased segregation of the sexes.

“No society throughout history has managed to segregate genders,” he said.

Rouhani also said he believed that Web censorship will only lead to more distrust of the government.

The Islamic Republic is an avid practitioner of such censorship, blocking access to hundreds of thousands of websites. Many Iranians manage to reach blocked sites, such as Facebook, through proxy servers.

“I wish the supporters of filtering could explain how they have succeeded to limit people’s access to the news,” Rouhani said.

State-run broadcaster IRIB also came under fire from Rouhani, who said it was out of touch.

In a tweet sent by his media team Wednesday, Rouhani was quoted as saying, “When IRIB airs birth of panda in China but nothing abt unpaid workers protesting, [it’s] obvious that ppl & youth will ignore it. If day comes that IRIB has more news coverage than foreign channels such as BBC, people will reconcile with it.”

Rouhani demonstrated his annoyance with censorship during the presidential debates, which were shown live on state TV.

In the second of the three debates, he clashed with hard-line candidates on state censorship and sociocultural issues, including unauthorized satellite dishes and whether media censorship should be allowed at all and, if so, who should have the authority to do it.

Rouhani decried the banning of some Iranian singers and artists from state TV and radio because they sided with the opposition movement in 2009.

Saman is carefully optimistic about the future.

“Our lives are always based on tomorrow perhaps being better than today. We seize the moment,” he said.

By The Los Angeles Times


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