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Rock music and women cyclists: resistance in Iran’s holiest city

For Iranian rock musician Pooyan Ghandi, the roar of the gang and the joys of reside efficiency are issues he can solely dream about.

The 34-year-old lives in the non secular city of Mashhad the place live shows have been banned for greater than a decade after hardliners in the theocratic state argued that they have been in opposition to Islamic teachings.

While such restrictions are uncommon elsewhere in Iran and in Tehran it’s doable to see reside music, Ghandi and musicians like him in Iran’s holiest city spend their days composing music that they’re unlikely ever to play to a crowd.

“There are many like me in Mashhad who are sitting in their room and work with one computer, upload their music and post it on audio streaming platforms,” Ghandi mentioned from his studio in his household dwelling.

“Music in Mashhad has turned into [a symbol of] muscle flexing” between reformists and hardliners, he added. “It is not rooted in religious beliefs because the call to prayer is music. Reciting the Koran is music.”

With centrist president Hassan Rouhani set to step down after two phrases, hardliners hope to safe the presidency in a June 18 ballot. Three of the seven candidates, together with frontrunner Ebrahim Raisi, have their roots in Mashhad, dwelling to the biggest shrine in Iran the place the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, is buried, and a stronghold for hardliners.

If Mashhad’s expertise is something to go by, Raisi’s victory may sign higher social and cultural repression. Raisi’s father-in-law, a number one determine in Mashhad, is likely one of the nation’s most controversial clerics. Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, 76, banned live shows in Mashhad and has mentioned that women haven’t any proper to cycle in the city. The ayatollah has beforehand voiced concern that some Iranian women have been extra prone to mannequin themselves on Sophia Loren than Fatemeh, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad.

Pooyan Ghandi
Rock musician Pooyan Ghandi lives in the city, the place live shows have been banned for greater than a decade © Najmeh Bozorgmehr/FT

When Raisi final ran for president 4 years in the past, it was rumoured, jokingly, that he would construct partitions in pavements to separate males and women. “Raisi will manage the cultural sector based on Islamic values,” mentioned Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a hardline politician in Mashhad, voicing his opposition to live shows that promote western values and enable males and women to bop collectively. This month his daughter mentioned on state tv that her father created a women-only part on the Mashhad shrine. He would, she mentioned, make “bridges” for males and women not partitions.

But even when Raisi tries to copy his father-in-law’s plan, analysts say the Mashhad expertise makes clear the problem of guaranteeing compliance even in this most conservative of cities.

Despite the non secular ban, women can nonetheless be seen biking. Cafés taking part in recordings of western music have opened. Young women are dressed fashionably and the compulsory head scarves are generally worn on their shoulders. Private events are frequent. The major distinction with different huge cities, analysts say, is that in case you are arrested for consuming alcohol you’ll nearly actually be sentenced to lashing with whips.

“Hardliners, if elected, may try to impose more restrictions in the cultural sector but it is very difficult to put Iranians back to the pre-internet, pre-Instagram era,” Majid Fouladiyan, a professor of cultural sociology at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.

The harder restrictions in Mashhad have if something fostered an identification of resistance in the city, he mentioned, a view echoed by others. Mashhad now has probably the most personal music studios in the nation, mentioned Ali Alavi, the editor of Khorasan day by day newspaper, a conservative outlet in Mashhad. He added: “More than 40 years of ruling shows us that the policies announced cannot be [necessarily] forcefully implemented.”

For most odd Iranians, the largest concern shouldn’t be ethical or social points however the economic system. “We have one of the world’s biggest economic cartels in Mashhad [affiliated to the shrine] but there are people who eat bread with tomato paste in this city,” one analyst mentioned.

With sanctions hitting the economic system exhausting and disillusionment rife, the poor may but grow to be the largest menace to the Islamic republic, “maybe even an existential threat”, the analyst mentioned. The first riots in opposition to financial hardship have been in 2017 and started in Mashhad, which has a inhabitants of 3m, and “we can see signs of the uprising of the hungry and bare-feet people here as one-third of Mashhad population live in poor suburbs”, he mentioned.

the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, is buried
Shrine of the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, who’s buried in the city © Najmeh Bozorgmehr/FT

For many in Mashhad, this disillusionment has fed right into a reluctance to vote. “I’m not going to vote ever again. I’ve not been able to save a penny over the past four years,” mentioned Reza, a 37-year-old shopkeeper in a grocery retailer. “The managers are either weak and powerful or strong and powerless. Why shall I make a fool of myself?”

Still different voters query the hardliner deal with regional insurance policies. For Cyrus Milani, a singer and musician in Mashhad who like Ghandi additionally works from dwelling, it’s troublesome to rationalise Iranian assist for Syria and Palestine “where they have live concerts” and but live shows are banned at dwelling. “I am very upset and have little income but I cannot do anything other than making my music,” he mentioned. “This is the first year that I do not know who is running for president and have no plan to vote.”

Other values matter too, individuals in Mashhad say, not least probity in public affairs and fairness. Not removed from the place Ghandi lives, a 33-storey residential block is below development by a politically linked man in his 30s, staff on the website mentioned. The English-language billboards recommend the constructing may have billiard and banquet halls in addition to a spa.

For Ghandi, lack of revenue and restrictions on efficiency have affected his creativity.

“We would have been able to achieve beyond our dreams. We could have helped promote people’s music taste, performances and quality of music,” he added. “We now see what has happened to music, is happening to bread and butter, too. When a tree [Iran] is not looked after well, first the leaves [music] drop and then it gets closer to the roots.”

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