Iran's Youth Push Islamic Limits

The Iranian students storming the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 became icons of worldwide Islamic revolution.

Twenty-five years later, . But as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, this time against the Islamic government itself.

Fully 60 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30, and they have had enough of strict Islamic rule. Everywhere there are signs that the religious authorities are losing control.

Especially for the young, personal behavior in public can be very political. You can easily see some of these small acts of rebellion in a place that would look familiar to any American teenager, like a shopping mall.

Women let their scarves slip back to show their hair. They show off their makeup, tight coats and high heels. Even five years ago, a couple holding hands in public could have been arrested and flogged. The mullahs hope that turning a blind eye to this minor defiance will relieve pressure for major change.

That pressure did explode in 1999. Students rioted and were brutally put down.

It was a grim lesson for Azadeh Shirzad who helps run her family's print shop. She remembers what happened to friends who got involved.

"Some of them were arrested and some of them were killed and you know? I am myself ... I am afraid of that," she says.

Islamic morality police tend to stay away from trendy places like fancy cappuccino bars. But even here, people would talk to CBS News only if they could hide their faces.

One couple says that if the police do raid the café, or even private parties, young people just bribe them to go away.

A party, they say, would cost $100.

It adds up to a cash bonus for the police but a long-term cost for the government and growing contempt for the Islamic state.

That worries mullah Mohammed al Abtahi. Until September, he was one of Iran's vice presidents. He quit, disgusted by the corrupt and reactionary regime. He's traded in politics for computer blogging.

On his popular Web site, al Abtahi posts irreverent photos of establishment figures - like one of Iran's nuclear minister picking his nose - that he takes with his cell phone.

"Our young people are as well informed as young people in China or Britain or America. Anyone who tries to limit them is bound to fail," he says.

The hardliners can always launch another temporary crackdown. But in the end, the 1970s Islamic revolution seems certain to be undone by its own children.
  • Jaime Holguin

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