How Iran's hardline Islamic image is being slowly erased from within

  • People aged under 30 currently represent a staggering 63 per cent of Iran's population of 73 million citizens
  • The Westernised Iranian youth is also among the most politically active groups within the Islamic world
  • The young also represent one of the greatest long-term threats to the current form of theocratic rule in Iran

By John Hall for MailOnline

Published: 10:33 GMT, 10 April 2015 | Updated: 18:34 GMT, 10 April 2015

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These stunning images capture the way young people in Iran are defying the country's hardline Islamic image to create a more Westernised society.

Taken in the capital Tehran, the photographs show teenagers and people in their early 20s kissing in public, drinking alcohol and living openly gay lifestyles.

Some of those pictured are even seen wearing clothing adorned with the Stars and Stripes - something previously unthinkable in a country where the conservative religious and political leadership still regularly leads chants of 'Death to America' at public meetings.

New era: People kiss and dance at a masquerade house party in the Iranian capital where alcohol is being served and consumed

New era: People kiss and dance at a masquerade house party in the Iranian capital where alcohol is being served and consumed

Modern: A group of young Iranians laugh as they wear fancy dress costumes at a party where they drink alcohol, kiss and dance

Modern: A group of young Iranians laugh as they wear fancy dress costumes at a party where they drink alcohol, kiss and dance

Political: Some of those pictured are even seen wearing clothing adorned with the Stars and Stripes - something previously unthinkable in a country where the conservative religious and political leadership still regularly leads chants of 'Death to America' at public meetings

Political: Some of those pictured are even seen wearing clothing adorned with the Stars and Stripes - something previously unthinkable in a country where the conservative religious and political leadership still regularly leads chants of 'Death to America' at public meetings

Celebration: A group of Young Iranians are seen heading in to the country's desert where they have illegal, alocohol-fuelled parties

Celebration: A group of Young Iranians are seen heading in to the country's desert where they have illegal, alocohol-fuelled parties

Peace and love: Young people in Iran are defying the country's hardline Islamic image to create a more Westernised society

Peace and love: Young people in Iran are defying the country's hardline Islamic image to create a more Westernised society

Young people represent the largest societal bloc in Iran, with over 63 per cent of Iran's population of 73 million people aged under 30. The Iranian youth is also among the most politically active groups within the 57 nations that make up the Islamic world.

As the most restive segment of Iranian society, the young also represent one of the greatest long-term threats to the current form of theocratic rule. 

Young activists have influenced the Islamic Republic's political agenda since 1997. 

After the 2009 presidential election, the Iranian youth was the biggest bloc involved in the region's first sustained 'people power' movement for democratic change, which helped create a new political dynamic in the Middle East. 

In many ways the highly-politicised largely Shiite youth of Iran can be seen as a forerunner of the Arab Spring movement that swept the Sunni Muslim world in 2011.

Change: A woman gives the peace sign as she poses for a portrait in front of a mural of the Statue of Liberty at a closed U.S. embassy

Change: A woman gives the peace sign as she poses for a portrait in front of a mural of the Statue of Liberty at a closed U.S. embassy

Head over heels: A young man is seen taking part in parkour, where contestants have to find unorthodox ways of moving around the city

Head over heels: A young man is seen taking part in parkour, where contestants have to find unorthodox ways of moving around the city

Young people represent the largest societal bloc in Iran, with over 63 per cent of Iran's population of 73 million people aged under 30

Young people represent the largest societal bloc in Iran, with over 63 per cent of Iran's population of 73 million people aged under 30

Taken in the capital Tehran, the photographs show people in their early 20s engaging in music, street art and living openly gay lifestyles

Taken in the capital Tehran, the photographs show people in their early 20s engaging in music, street art and living openly gay lifestyles

Making a change: The Iranian youth is among the most politically active groups within the 57 nations that make up the Islamic world

Making a change: The Iranian youth is among the most politically active groups within the 57 nations that make up the Islamic world

Unconventional: A young parkour performer runs, jumps and climbs on metal railings outside a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran

Unconventional: A young parkour performer runs, jumps and climbs on metal railings outside a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran

The Islamic Republic of Iran forcibly regained control over the most rebellious sector of society through detentions, expulsions from universities, and expanding the powers of its own young paramilitary forces following the rise of the 'people power' movement in 2009.

But youth demands have not changed, and anger simmers beneath the surface. 

The regime also remains vulnerable because it has failed to address basic socio-economic problems among the young.

The will of young people in Iran has also influenced Iran's changing relationship with the U.S, which has just come to preliminary nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic.

The biggest enforcement provision in that agreement is turning into one of the mostly hotly contested elements, however. And the debate barely involves Iran. 

Instead, it concerns the Obama administration's promise to quickly re-impose sanctions on Iran if the country cheats on any part of the agreement to limit its nuclear program to peaceful pursuits.

This would be relatively straightforward for the sanctions imposed by the U.S., as Congress is eager to keep the pressure on. 

But it is far from clear whether President Barack Obama can guarantee such action at the United Nations, which has imposed wide-ranging penalties that all U.N. members must enforce

As the most restive segment of Iranian society, the young also represent one of the greatest long-term threats to Iran's theocratic rule

As the most restive segment of Iranian society, the young also represent one of the greatest long-term threats to Iran's theocratic rule

Hip hop and break dance performers pose for the camera as the dance in the streets of the modern Ekbatan neighbourhood of Tehran

Hip hop and break dance performers pose for the camera as the dance in the streets of the modern Ekbatan neighbourhood of Tehran

Taking a stand: Young activists have had a massive influence on the Islamic Republic of Iran's political agenda since 1997

Taking a stand: Young activists have had a massive influence on the Islamic Republic of Iran's political agenda since 1997

Love and religion: A gay couple kiss one another while holding a copy of the Koran as a symbol of the struggle for change in Iran

Love and religion: A gay couple kiss one another while holding a copy of the Koran as a symbol of the struggle for change in Iran

A young Iranian is seen driving in to the country's desert to join one of the many illegal, alcohol-fuelled parties hosted there

A young Iranian is seen driving in to the country's desert to join one of the many illegal, alcohol-fuelled parties hosted there

At present, there's no firm agreement on how or when to lift the sanctions in the first place. 

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, and President Hassan Rouhani yesterday said they want all sanctions lifted on the first day of implementation. 

That's not the position of U.S. and other negotiators, a major issue that still must be worked out.

Assuming it can be, that still would leave the big question of possible re-imposition.

The disagreement on this issue is between the U.S. and its European allies on one side, and Russia and China on the other - all countries involved in the nuclear negotiations. 

And even though all six world powers and Iran agreed last week to the framework agreement that is supposed to be finalized by June 30, the 'snapback' mechanism for U.N. sanctions remains poorly defined and may prove unworkable.

'If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place,' Obama declared last week.

Controversial: A young Iranian woman stands in front of an old piece of political graffiti reading 'Down with USA'

Controversial: A young Iranian woman stands in front of an old piece of political graffiti reading 'Down with USA'

A young man is seen taking part in parkour, where contestants have to find unorthodox ways of moving around the city

A young man is seen taking part in parkour, where contestants have to find unorthodox ways of moving around the city

Bouncing around the city: A young man is seen taking part in parkour in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran

Bouncing around the city: A young man is seen taking part in parkour in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran

Westernised: The will of young people in Iran has also influenced Iran's changing relationship with the United States

Westernised: The will of young people in Iran has also influenced Iran's changing relationship with the United States

Superman: A young parkour performer runs, jumps and climbs over a concrete bench outside a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran

Superman: A young parkour performer runs, jumps and climbs over a concrete bench outside a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran

Defying the regime: It is illegal for people to kiss in public in Iran - something man young people choose to ignore

Defying the regime: It is illegal for people to kiss in public in Iran - something man young people choose to ignore

Obama went further this week, saying that restoring the international sanctions would not require consensus among U.N. Security Council members. And Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who helped seal last week's pact, insisted 'no one country could block the snapback.'

That assertion rests on an informal compromise reached at the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, to bypass the typical U.N. Security Council process if Iran breaks the agreement. 

Normally in that body, any one of the five permanent members - the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, which are all party to the Iran negotiations - can veto resolutions.

But many questions remain, including what would happen if two or more countries object. Russia and China have traditionally opposed almost all U.N. sanctions measures, and, perhaps tellingly, neither country's foreign minister was present when the April 2 framework was unveiled.

Washington and its negotiating partners plan to suspend or lift many sanctions after the U.N. nuclear agency confirms Iran has scaled back its activity in accordance with a final deal. But the U.S. and its European partners want the capacity to quickly reinstate the restrictions if Iran reneges.

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