Iran: Modern life despite conservative leadership

Iran: Modern life despite conservative leadership


Status: 06/19/2022 1:10 p.m

A year ago, Iran’s elections paved the way for an ultra-conservative government under President Raisi. But she cannot stop people’s urge for a Western lifestyle.

By Karin Senz, ARD Studio Istanbul

Such sounds were unusual in Iranian cafés not so long ago: wild guitar music with US lyrics. But that’s exactly what Melika likes about her workplace. She is at the cash register in a coffee shop in the Iranian city of Shiraz.

Karen Senz

She asks a customer who wants to pay whether everything is OK, and looks at him in a friendly manner with her large, dark eyes. The 21-year-old wears a wide checked shirt and the obligatory headscarf. Only, the student keeps slipping down. At some point she will leave it there. Nobody complains, nobody looks at them askance, especially not their boss Farshad. He relies on a modern atmosphere in his café. And for him that means the western coffee shop atmosphere. He met her many years ago in Italy. Because Iran is actually a country of tea drinkers.

“The café industry has managed to modernize the business as a whole,” says Farshad. “Cafés have come out of the dark basement atmosphere and have become street cafes. You can sit under a parasol in the fresh air and simply talk directly to everyone. It’s just very relaxed there.” A young woman pushes past him. Under her wide, open blouse, she wears a crop top.

Working in a café instead of studying medicine

Meanwhile, Melika jokes with her colleagues behind the counter. She started here eight months ago: “I just discover a lot of new things here,” she says. “I passed the entrance exam for medicine at the university. But after a while I realized that this is not my dream, it’s that of my family. That’s why I dropped out of college and looked for a job.”

Many parents wish for their children to become a doctor because they can then count on a reasonably good income in these times of economic crisis. Accordingly, Melika’s parents were not enthusiastic about their decision either: “I always wanted to get away from my family. I want to make my own experiences,” she says.

Her eyes wander around the café to see if anyone wants to order anything. Then she continues: In the meantime she has started a new degree, genetic engineering. But she definitely doesn’t want to give up her job here: “It’s not easy. Sometimes I only sleep three hours because I have to study a lot. And I work eight hours here too. After that I come home really tired. You have to bite through and stay up at night.”

Despite her work, the café seems to be an oasis for her, an escape from a casual Western lifestyle: “I even come here on my days off and visit my colleagues, otherwise I miss them,” she says. “We’re just all very close. That really makes you want to work.”

Modern concept is well received

Farshad’s concept is also well received by the guests. It’s lunchtime and there’s a lot going on. The 37-year-old goes from table to table outside on the terrace and makes short small talk everywhere. Many of the women smoke cigarettes, have stylish mobile phones and headscarves around their necks. Maryam and Anna are sitting at a table. They attract attention, wear their headscarves tightly tied so that no hair sticks out.

Anna explains that they work for a government agency. There’s the rule. “In Iran, many young people can maybe be in the car together if they don’t want to be disturbed,” she says. “I think it’s nicer in the café here. Nobody complains there and they can just sit together for hours without any problems.”

Restrictions on freedoms feared

A year ago, when the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected president, many feared that freedom would be restricted again, that there would be more controls and penalties in modern coffee shops. Farshad is happy to answer in detail. Now he takes a step back and keeps it short: “We respect and follow all rules and regulations. People come to have a coffee and just go about their daily lives.”

It’s not that easy. A story from Tehran is currently circulating on the internet. There was an inspection at a similarly modern coffee shop. All waitresses were required to wear hijab, i.e. to hide their hair under the headscarf. They have quit, the posts say.

No international competition

A craftsman approaches Farshad. He’s supposed to fix the air conditioning in the cafe. He explains to Farshad that he can’t get spare parts for this model because of US sanctions. No problem for Farshad. Then the craftsman should build the spare part himself. It seems like he has a solution for everything. In any case, the sanctions are not preventing him from doing good business. He buys his coffee from an Iranian roaster. It has nothing to do with the import.

On the contrary, he even benefits a little from the fact that Iran is internationally isolated. Well-known coffee shop chains like Starbucks, which operate worldwide, do not exist here and are therefore not a competitor.

Farshad’s eyes are everywhere. One of the employees left glass cleaner in the display case. He admonishes him. For that he deserves respect. They all appreciate what he has created here. For Melika, the coffee shop in Shiraz is also a small window on the world: “From time to time, foreign tourists also come to drink a coffee and something to eat. We, my colleagues, then find out something about their countries and learn that way other languages ​​too.”

She is totally immersed in her job. And yes, she may not work as a genetic researcher. At the moment she would much rather have her own café.

Iran one year after Raisi’s election: modern life despite being ultra-conservative. leadership

Karin Senz, ARD Istanbul, June 19, 2022 12:11 p.m

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