Hope, fear, apathy: Iranian youth look to elections
Iran is gearing up for a presidential election on Friday, but many young people are focusing more on the daily struggle for survival and their dreams for the future.
Jobs are scarce in an economy hit by recession and hit by sanctions, a crisis exacerbated by the region’s deadliest Covid-19 epidemic.
The prosperity and openness that many hoped for after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal never materialized because then-US President Donald Trump torpedoed it three years ago.
The Islamic Republic is a young country of 83 million people, nearly half of whom are under 30, born long after the 1979 revolution.
AFP spoke to several Iranians in their 20s and 30s, in the green and affluent north of Tehran and in the bustling city center, about their hopes, fears and aspirations.
– ‘Stay and build?’ –
Nursing student Narges, 20, was spending time with her classmates outside a popular burger restaurant in Tajrish Square in northern Tehran.
“Life is tough,” she said, as “the cost of living is grueling and a trip to the supermarket empties the bank (account)”.
“But he still has his beauties,” she added with a chuckle, saying she enjoys browsing Tehran’s many bookstores and, occasionally, buying impulse candy.
The nuclear deal was taking shape when Narges was still in high school, she said, recalling that at the time she expected “the country to get colorful.”
“But, well, it’s not,” she said.
The lack of a “bright prospect” prompted her to consider returning to live with her parents – or even leaving Iran, an idea she once rejected.
“I was someone who didn’t want to leave, who believed in ‘stay and build’,” she said. “But not anymore.”
This is the first election in which Narges is of voting age, but she said she had “no particular feelings” about it.
Another nursing student, Nahid, 22, said she “didn’t feel very good before or so bad now that I would like to leave … I think that’s life, it goes on.”
– ‘Go on living’ –
Mohammad Hekmat, 34, trained in metallurgy, sold roses and daffodils under a hot summer sun in a city park.
Hekmat moved to Tehran a decade ago after he couldn’t find a job in his hometown of Qaem Shahr in the north of the country.
“I imagined it was a metropolis, with the possibility of growing up and finding a job, of having a future,” he said, clutching the flowers unsold the day before.
“But it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Suddenly everything changed. Not just for me, but for everyone.”
He earns just enough to eat and rent a room on the eastern outskirts of Tehran.
“It’s like you can’t think of the future, just the present, to stay alive.”
In Friday’s election, he said, he hopes whoever wins will be able to jump-start the struggling economy.
His dream is “to have children, a future and to grow old” in comfort – but he said that would be impossible “unless the economy is fixed”.
– Future pop star –
On a nearby bench sat Mohammad Sheikhi, a 20-year-old busker, with a guitar tattooed on his arm, even as his beloved instrument had just broken in an accident.
Undeterred, he said he would one day become a famous pop star: “I’ll be the one on stage, singing and performing in front of an audience of 15,000 people.”
Sheikhi said he plans to migrate to Turkey, as does his favorite Iranian musician, the controversial R&B artist Amir Tataloo.
Sheikhi said he was not keeping up with election news, but recognized the name of front-runner, ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi.
He expressed the hope that the next president will allow Iranian musicians, even those who are not in favor of the authorities, “to work, to have concerts, to obtain permits”.
“Sir, whoever will be president, congratulations,” Sheikhi added. “I hope you can run the country properly.”
– ‘Far from my dreams’ –
In downtown Tehran, Mohammadreza Nezami, 20, works as a shoemaker, after previous jobs in construction and a dairy processing factory.
“I have been working since I was 13, but what is there to show? ” He asked. “I can’t buy a car or anything. Things have gotten difficult.”
“Money is hard-earned and goes away easily. And anyone who says money doesn’t bring happiness is wrong because part of life is money.”
His goal is to own a shoe store, a good car, and have a good income, “a happy life,” he said.
“I have no doubt that I will achieve what I want someday, but now I am very far from my dreams.”
Although the path will be “difficult”, he said, he plans to stay in Iran, arguing that those who leave “find excuses” and lack the determination to succeed.
Regarding the election, Nezami said, “This is the first year I can vote. But I’m not really sure. I could vote.”
© 2021 AFP