A generation ago, in the 1970s, young Iranians filled with revolutionary fervor helped overthrow their government and establish an Islamic state. And until a few years ago, Iran's young people took the lead in efforts for reform. But today, 17-year-old Amirali Farzanehfar and his friends seem to have other things on their minds.
"All I care about is my personal life and my personal freedoms," says Amirali. "Our politics needs to change on its own. We cannot do anything."
His friend, 16-year-old Alireza Motlaghzadeh, agrees: "It is a big mistake to be political in this country."
The two boys reflect the broad frustration with politics among young people in Iran today. Between 1997 and the election in 2005 of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran looked like a nation on the verge of social and political change. But change did not come, and that has left most Iranians, and young people in particular, disillusioned with politics.
So teenagers like Alireza, whose family is part of Iran's struggling middle class, and Amirali, whose family is wealthier, focus on other things--like studying for exams and finding ways to hang out with their friends, including girls, despite the restrictions under a repressive Islamic regime.
Iran may be part of President Bush's "axis of evil"--an image that Ahmadinejad plays into by continuing to defy the United Nations with a nuclear research program that could be developing nuclear weapons. Plus, there are his fiery threats to wipe Israel off the map, and charges by Washington that Iran is supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and meddling in neighboring Iraq.
But for many Iranians, their nation's tense relationship with the U.S. and the West is of less concern than the desperate state of their economy.
Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer, but even with oil prices at record levels, the economy continues to sink after years of mismanagement by the government. More than 10 percent of the population lives in severe poverty, on less than $100 a month. For millions of Iranians, the biggest hurdle is just finding a job: The official unemployment rate is 12 percent, but economists say it is closer to 30 percent.
Iran does hold elections, but real power is held not by the elected Parliament or President, but by the country's religious leaders, or mullahs. In recent months, the mullahs have been trying to block any possibility of reform. They've kept more...