Will young lovers oust Ahmadinejad?

Iran's "marriage crisis" could affect Friday's election.

By Lynn Harris

Published June 10, 2009 8:11PM (EDT)

Turns out Iranians are having a "marriage crisis" of their own -- one that could affect the outcome of Friday's presidential election. But theirs has little to do with the gays. In a nutshell: A rising number of young Iranians cannot afford to marry, basically because even middle-class salaries leave modest starter apartments out of reach. And: "Iran's government cannot afford to alienate more than 35% of its population," Time magazine reports. "The young are already seething over their government's radical stance in the world and its trashing of the economy, and their anger easily expresses itself politically. As they decide how to vote in Friday's presidential election, young people ... are likely to base their decision in part on who they think will address the problem closest to their heart." (In other words, the collective desire to move the hell out of one's parents' basement may be so strong as to unseat an incumbent president.)

Here in a country where we have poetry slams in the White House, we've almost forgotten what it's like to have square, out-of-touch leaders who've never surfed the Internet. In Iran, the generation gap between the government and the governed is only widening. For one thing, Iranian women are now going to college (where they outnumber men) -- and into the workforce -- rather than marrying young. As Time puts it: "With young people pursuing more liberal lifestyles and shunning the traditional mores of their parents' generation, the marrying age is steadily climbing. This terrifies Iran's religious government, which still peddles the virtue of chastity and views young people's shifting attitudes toward sexuality as a direct threat to the Islamic Revolution's core values." (And uses terms designed for maximum snicker impact. "The sexual bomb we face is more dangerous than the bombs and missiles of the enemy," the head of Iran's National Youth Organization said late last year.)

But if they really want the kids to get -- and even stay -- married, they've got to look at the numbers. Real estate prices have doubled; couples are finding themselves priced out of shacking up. "The resulting strains are breaking up existing marriages -- this past winter, local media reported that a leading cause of Iran's high divorce rate is the husband's inability to establish an independent household," Time reports. (Obviously, many traditional gender expectations are still at work.) "Many others are concluding that marriage is best avoided altogether."

(A recent government proposal that young people who can't afford their own places should legally marry but continue to live in their respective parents' homes was met with a resounding "As IF." Women in particular protested, arguing that it "afforded men a legal and pious route to easy sex while offering women nothing by way of security or social respect," Time reports. The plan was dropped.)

Iranians like 27-year-old Samira, cited in the piece, blame Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's broken promises and failed policies for the fact that she and her fiancé can't afford their own place, even with two decent salaries. That's a key reason they're voting for leading reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Indeed, when young lovers head to the polls on Friday, the current regime may well find that the marital is the political.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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