Playful water wars condemned as threat in Iran

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tehran water gun festival

Everyone knows not to play with fire. In Tehran, it seems, even playing with water can cause problems. This was the lesson’ that several Iranian youngsters learned the hard way when arrested last month by security forces for taking part in a game ofwater warin the streets. Facebookplayeda significant role in bringing together a few hundred young people for the battle.

On July 29, several hundred youths took part in a large-scale water battle using water guns and empty bottles at Ab-o-Atash (Water and Fire) park in central Tehran after organizing the event onFacebookand through text messages.

Scores of participants were arrested as photos of the event emerged on social networking websites and eventually made their way into the media. Most were released on bail, Shargh newspaper reported.

Officials and conservative media denounced the event in which, according to circulated photos, soaked boys and girls — some with their mandatory hijabs askew — attacked each other with water pistols in the heat-weary capital. By law, the hijab is obligatory for all women inIran.

General Ahmad Rouzbahani, the head of the morality police, warned recently in a television appearance that police forces, in accordance with the law, “will act forcefully against this type of action and will not allow such events to happen in public places, or anywhere throughout the country.”

CODE OF CONDUCT CHALLENGED

The participants weren’t chanting opposition slogans or protesting against the government, but were having a good time in public, which can be seen as a challenge to state-enforced codes of conduct.

Many people praised them for their creativity, for managing to organize the event, and also for having fun, which is not always easy in Iran. Not everyone was happy, though. Conservative websites used the “incriminating” photos to accuse the young people of immorality and moral corruption.

On July 31, Tehran’s police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, said a group of young Tehran residents were arrested for splashing water at each other. He also warnedthat the police would act against others who disrupted “public order and security.” He provided no details on the number of arrests.

One parliament deputy, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, said the organizers of the event were trying to distance the youth from Islamic principles and the values of the Islamic republic. Another lawmaker, Hossein Ebrahim, called on the judiciary to take action against similar events.

The water fight is one of the latest ‘colourful’ events to take place in Tehran in recent months. Last week, in another park in the capital, a group of young men and women turned up for a fancy dress show.

In January, young people with curly hair celebrated their locks at a gathering in another park.

There were also gatherings for paintball, kite flying, and blowing bubbles. All the events are said to have been organized through Facebook.

It’s not clear why the water fight has caused more sensitivity than the previous events.

One reason could be the photos of cheerful boys and girls mingling that were widely shared on websites and social media. The event apparently attracted more people than the previous gatherings, which could be also a reason why the authorities felt the need to take action. Officials, of course, are also wary of any kind of gathering, especially among youth, for fear it could take on anti-establishment overtones — even perhaps in the case of these apparently apolitical events.

It could also be that the water-loving youths have become victims of the political rivalries between the different factions of the Islamic establishment.

The hard-line, pro-governmentRajanewswebsite attacked Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf over the case and accused his team of backing the event. The Hamshahri website, which belongs to Tehran’s municipality, countered the accusation and denied any affiliation with the water fight.

Both sides appear to agree on one thing: by engaging in a water fight, the young people have acted against Islamic laws.

JUST FUN

Some of the young people, however, disagree. “All we want is a bit of joy,” one participant wrote on Facebook. “So that Islam is not endangered during water fights, women on this side, men on the other,” a young Tehrani man posted sarcastically on another of the Facebook pages devoted to the water fight.

The fun-seeking young people don’t appear to be intimidated by the warnings and reported arrests. Some write on Facebook that there will be more actions in upcoming weeks.

“At the worst case we will run away if the police come,” wrote a young man on the Facebook page of “Water Gun Wars in Tehran.”

The incident highlights the gap between the establishment and the population, of which about 65 percent are younger than 35 years old. It also highlights the shrinking tolerance of the establishment and the braveness of young people who, despite all restrictions, manage to find ways to breathe a bit of fresh air and socialise.

YOUTH OPPRESSION

From official reactions on the recent mass gun battle in the Iranian capital, one might have concluded that participants were using firearms rather than water-pistols.

In a country where public forms of entertainment are thin on the ground, hundreds of young people who took part in this water fight were certainly disappointed. Hardliners have consistently pressed for tougher enforcement of the Islamic dress code and stricter separation of the sexes in all areas of public life.

In turn, these attitudes are constantly being challenged, spontaneously in public, by unmarried couples holding hands or women wearing their headscarves more loosely than Islamic dress code prescribes; and in a more organised fashion in private, with concerts and parties where men and women mix freely and consume alcohol.

What seems certain is that police repression is not going to stop such events breaking out, and over an increasingly wide geographical area. A week after the water fight in Tehran, Abbas Khodadadzade, deputy police chief for the southern province of Hormozgan, announced that 30 boys and girls had been arrested after taking part in a similar gunbattle in park in the port city of Bandar Abbas.

Young Iranians say the event started out as innocent fun but has now turned into a political issue. They are vowing to challenge authorities with more events. A nationwide water war is scheduled for Friday, after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Sources: Globalvoicesonline, Foxnews, Rferl, Middle-east-online, WSJ

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