Rouhani defends right of young Iranians to express joy and happiness

Azadeh Moaveni reports: Iran may have lost to Argentina thanks to a Lionel Messi strike in the dying seconds of their World Cup match on Saturday, but that didn’t stop the Tehran street party that rattled the authorities. Large numbers of Iranians converged on the streets, dancing on overpasses, overrunning major thoroughfares, chanting and blaring music out of cars, in an outpouring of popular celebration that prompted the authorities to send plainclothes security agents on motorbikes through the crowds to disperse them. Riot police had locked down thoroughfares like Tehran’s busy Parkway intersection, but young people flooded into side streets to carry on their festivities, buoyed by the Iranian national soccer team’s strong showing against top-ranked Argentina.

Most neutral commentators concurred that the Iranian team had mounted a superb effort and had been unlucky to be denied at least a draw against the two-time World Cup champions. “This dignified loss means more to us than any win,” said one young man dancing with his friends on the street.

Despite the heavy police presence across the city, the unexpected outpouring for Team Melli — as the national soccer team is known — stayed strictly in the spirit of fun. Young peopled flew the Iranian flag from their motorbikes and chanted their thanks to individual players, but their commotion carried none of the political overtones of past public celebrations around the World Cup. Instead, most seemed content to have Team Melli project a new image of Iran to the world, that of a moderate, soccer-loving nation, progressive enough to have an endangered species, the Asian cheetah, on its team uniform. “The national team and their fans can both improve Iran’s reputation, and if the government cooperates and doesn’t crack down, that will boost people’s sense of hope,” said Ali, a 28-year-old event manager. “Iranians are more depressed today than any other time, so a little bit of happiness can make it better.”

It’s precisely that prospect of hopefulness, though, that some say led the Iranian regime to deliberately stanch public excitement in advance of the World Cup. Security authorities took the unprecedented step of banning the broadcast of matches in public cinemas and cafés, effectively barring Iranians from experiencing the matches as collective events. [Continue reading…]

As CNN reports, that ban was not effectively enforced:

As the Associated Press reports, the popularity of a World Cup video led to arrests in Iran.

Iranian police have arrested three people who appeared in an online video of young men and women singing and dancing in support of the country’s World Cup football team, the official IRNA news agency reported Monday.

Provincial police chief Col. Rahmatollah Taheri was quoted as saying the video clip, produced by the London-based Ajam Band, features scenes from outside and inside Iran, including the city of Shahroud, where two 23-year-olds appearing in the film and a 26-year-old photographer were arrested.

The video shows young people, including women not wearing the mandatory headscarf, singing and dancing in support of Iran’s national team, interspersed with footage from matches. They are shown waving Iranian flags and dancing in cars, streets, homes and public parks.

Taheri called the video “vulgar” and urged the youth not to take part in such activities. The official said those arrested have been referred for possible prosecution.

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