Iran’s demographic timebomb

Image by Gary Burge on Flickr / Some rights reserved

I studied modern Middle Eastern history at university, and remember a conversation I had with an Iranian course mate in my third year.   We were talking about rumours that the Bush regime could extend its War on Terror to Iran.  I always roll out that conversation when talking about Iran, and it seems particularly pertinent now.  Here’s a précis:

The Ayatollahs came to power as the strongest and most charismatic group amongst a disparate collection of movements disenfranchised by the Shah- the impoverished, the rapidly urbanised, the religious, the persecuted, the rural and so on. Once there, Khomeini and the Guardian Council instructed the people of the Islamic Republic to multiply… literally endorsing a giant baby boom that would constitute the “children of the revolution”.

In doing so, they created a giant demographic time bomb.  The children of the revolution- those under the age of thirty- now constitute almost 70% of the Iranian population.  They are blogging, they are political, they are well aware of the West, they are confident of the truism that Islam and open democracy needn’t be mutually exclusive, and they are increasingly unhappy with the domestic status quo.  Over the last few years, the Council and Ahmadinejad have been fighting to keep this young populace on their side.  One of the few things that Iranians can agree on is that they don’t like America- thus the provocative nuclear programme, deliberately concocted as an irritant to America.  Ahmadinejad has built his Presidency around this monolithic contrariness, as he knows that it’s all he’s got.

But it was always going to wear thin.  A mutual dislike of America isn’t enough anymore.  My friend believed that it would be a gigantic mistake for the US to attempt a regime change in Iran, not only becuase it would galvanise one of the last remaining things that still binds the Iranian people and the Iranian powers that be.  She also believed that if the US waited long enough, the Iranians would change the regime themselves.  “The children of the revolution will end the revolution, and start the next one” she said.

Maybe we are seeing the beginnings of this now.

Image: Image by Gary Burge on Flickr / Some rights reserved

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