Fast and furious: Iran fights to control its youth

Fast and furious: Iran fights to control its youth
Comment: Car cruising events are just the latest element of youth culture to be cracked down upon, as Tehran bids to control social problems it has created, writes Majid Mohammadi
4 min read
18 Sep, 2015
A government crackdown on public space has added to Iranians' economic woes [AFP]
"Police have dealt with more than 315,000 cars cruising late at night, out of which 21,000 have been impounded," said Iran's chief traffic officer.

His deputy said that "100 police squads were patroling expressways and streets to confront this phenomenon".

Approximately 1,050 luxury cars are among the impounded, after 18 months of police operations.

The number of cars which are involved in these nightly gatherings is thought to be in the region of 315,000 - a platoon of 100 police squads is not deployed to confront a mere few hundred people.

Now the question is why hundreds of thousand cars and millions of people are involved in such "problematic" activities? Why do they make traffic unbearable and expose themselves to police interference? What really happens at these events?
     A platoon of 100 police squads is not deployed to confront a mere few hundred people.

Social animals

According to witness reports and videos posted online people come to these cruising shows to achieve three goals:

First, to show off their cars and see others' luxurious Porsches, Maseratis, Mercedes or BMWs.

Second, to socialise with friends while driving and watching.

Third, to hook up with someone as a future boyfriend, girlfriend or lover.

Fighting the staunch attempt by government to control public venues where they can gather and socialise, young Iranians have reclaimed the streets and motorways as their public arena.

The government has less control over cars and streets than it has over spaces such as parks, restaurants, cafes and stadiums.

Why cruising cars?

All over the world, people use bars, coffee shops, clubs, sport facilities, concert halls, discos and restaurants to socialise and have fun with others. This is not possible for young Iranians. The Iranian government closed all discos and bars after the 1979 revolution.

Musicians rarely receive licenses for concerts, and even after they get a license, Basij and plain-clothes militia interfere and often cancel performances. In the past two years, 30 licensed concerts have been cancelled by authorities including Friday prayer leaders and local commanders.

In the 15 years of the internet era in Iran, thousands of internet cafes have been shut down. So far in 2015, at least 272 have had their plugs pulled.

Hundreds of coffee shops have been shut down over the past 37 years of the Islamic republic - 53 of them in one day in 2011 - and hundreds of billiards clubs have been closed.

In the most recent raid in Ardebil, in northwest Iran, nine internet cafes were closed.

During eight years of the Khatami administration, thousands of civil society institutions were launched. Ahmadinejad's administration cracked down on them. The limitations imposed on them have not been removed during Rouhani's rule.

A lot of time to spend

Iranian youth have a lot of time to spend on sport, art and culture. The unemployment rate for college graduates is around 42 percent. The number of students who drop out of education is around 350,000 each year, and the overall number is around 3.2 million.

Society and government have not been able to create enough jobs for these people, and expect them to stay home and do nothing.
     The Islamic Republic... creates social problems then fights to suppress them

Bad governance, abnormal society

The Islamic Republic has a unique style of governance. It creates social problems then fights to suppress them. Car cruising is the direct result of the government's crackdown on social clubs and venues - and now it is fought by deploying hundreds of the state's disciplinary forces.

There are also other examples.

Underground music production, black markets for DVDs and CDs, underage marriages that often lead to abuse and divorce, and hundreds of people killed by drinking home-brewed alcoholic drinks every year are all problems the government has created.

An abnormal society is the inevitable result of poor governance. There are around six million bounced cheques in Iran each year. Every year, more than six million cases are referred to the Iranian judiciary, which is drowning under a heavy backlog.

The number of prisoners has risen from 10,000 to 210,000 during the era of the Islamic Republic, while the population has only increased by 2.3 times. The number of unnecessary and prank calls to emergency services such as fire departments, police stations and hospitals are around 2.5 million per year.

These are all direct effects of thr Islamic Republic's economic, social and cultural policies.

Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian-born academic and the author of several books in Persian and English on politics, arts and religion in Iran.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.