Iranian youth find freedom in wild camping
Since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, there have been no nightclubs or bars where young Iranians can meet and socialize. Strict families and the Islamic regime also prohibit premarital sex.
Frustrated by the restrictions and seeing no chance of substantive change, a new generation is escaping overzealous conservative parents and official restrictions by heading out into the wild.
It is not strictly about love for nature. Once in the country’s forests, mountains, deserts and islands, young women let go of their Islamic blankets and groups of friends dance, sing, use drugs and have sex. The younger they are, the more likely they are to challenge the rules of the Islamic Republic.
As a regular climber in the mountains around Tehran and elsewhere, I see an increasing number of groups from different social backgrounds using the great outdoors to find freedom.
Hamid Naeeini, who has been a professional guide for 16 years, says the number of camping groups has increased tenfold in the past four years, and up to 100 times compared to ten years ago. He thinks Instagram has played a crucial role. “Sex is not a problem when touring, even in religious areas,” he says. “The inhabitants of rural areas are affected by changes in mores.”
Fatemeh, a 19-year-old Tehrani, tells me that for two years she has been camping in the forests “to find reality” and to escape her “boring and repetitive” life in the capital. “We have a lot of freedom there and I cry even when I have to return to Tehran,” she said. “Everyone is really happy,” she says. “Having sex is completely normal. [Magic] mushrooms are a gift from nature to us. Nature is our religion.
Many families fear that their young people are fleeing the reality of Iran’s social restrictions. But campers retort that the Islamic system refuses to recognize the reality of modern life.
For the authorities, this new method of challenge is proving difficult to master. Abbasali Soleimani, head of Friday prayers in Kashan – a town about 250 km south of Tehran surrounded by breathtaking deserts that are popular tourist destinations – this year warned of the “moral challenges” facing the country . “What is happening under the name of tourism falls short of the dignity of the holy Islamic republic and [a betrayal of] the blood of our martyrs, ”he said.
A widely circulated video of Islamic vigilantes attacking climbers near the historic city of Isfahan outraged the country earlier this year. The gang argued that in their area, women and men could not play sports together.
None of this deters those determined to escape the country’s restrictions. Mehrdad, 24, is one of many unofficial tour guides using Instagram to organize trips to popular destinations such as the islands of Hengam and Hormuz in the south, as well as forests and deserts in others. parts of Iran. “Young people have no other way to have fun. I never ask them what they smoke or drink, or who they sleep with in their tent, ”he says.
He explains how generational changes affected his tour groups. The first cohort after 1979 has been through the most socially restricted period and just wants to play sports, he tells me, adding that he no longer takes the 35 on his tours because they are “too serious”. The next cohort has rebelled a bit, so they do “yoga and sports” and drink alcohol, he says, while those born after 2000 are turning west on social media and are in. “Joints and sex”.
The gulf between the concessions the Islamic Republic is prepared to make and the demands of young Iranians has been widening for decades, but it is quickly becoming a yawning chasm. More than 20 years of futile reform efforts have left many convinced that the authorities will never change, and it is a struggle to find people who still believe that political, economic and social reforms can take place within of the Islamic Republic.
The response of many is to disengage. Fatemeh, like most pro-democracy Iranians, does not intend to vote in the June 18 presidential election. “It’s just a game and I’d rather spend my time in nature than helping the authorities suffocate us,” she says.