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Separate and parallel: Why are Iranian conservatives creating ‘safe havens’?

The Iranian state appears to be increasingly funneling its resources into preserving and satisfying its loyal base rather than toward all-out efforts to win the hearts and minds of the broader public and enforce ultraconservative practices.

On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution back in February, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei underlined the necessity of leading an Islamic lifestyle in the Second Step of the Revolution, his most important public message in the past few months. It was one of several other instances of Khamenei raising this subject in the last few years. The hard-line preacher Alireza Panahian has asserted, “The revolution has progressed in most areas except for [enhancing an Islamic] lifestyle.” Perhaps this points to the impetus behind the supreme leader's focus on the issue.

A quick look at the social realities in Iran indicates that both the general public and the rank and file among the revolutionaries have not been immune to the “cultural invasion of the West,” to use Khamenei’s own words. Indeed, the public sphere has moved so radically away from Islamic and revolutionary ideals that some conservatives feel the need to shield themselves from its allegedly contaminating influences by retreating into their own private enclaves and public “safe havens.” To this end, numerous cafés and restaurants in Tehran have been established to cater exclusively to ultraconservative families. The condition of admission is strict observance of the hijab and abiding by conservative codes and etiquette.

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