From The Wall Street Journal
Fearful of Facebook and Frolicking Youths, Regime Cracks Down on Squirt-Gun Fights.
Authorities in authoritarian Iran have determined the latest threat to the Islamic Republic: squirt guns.
Agents of the regime fanned out across Tehran late last month to question toy store owners about whether the fake guns had been imported from America. Nope: made right in Iran or imported from China.
Why all this fuss? A water fight among playful youth at a water park.
After heeding a call on Facebook, a group of nearly 800 young men and women were among those who showed up at the park. They were surprised to find others there eager to drench anyone in sight.
They chased strangers around a giant water fountain, screaming and laughing as they splashed each other with water from toy guns, bottles and plastic bags.
"We had a blast. It was a rare chance for boys and girls to hang out in a public place and have fun," said Shaghayegh, a participant who did not want her last name to be used.
Among Iranian authorities, the fun and games triggered a different reaction. Police raided the park, engaging in a four-hour cat-and-mouse game with the youth, who turned their squirt guns on the cops and threw plastic bags full of water on the policemen's heads, according to participants and media reports.
Finally, park authorities cut off the water, rounded up dozens of young men and women, and dragged them to jail. Tehran's police chief vowed to crack down and warned that similar water-war events were planned in other cities.
While flash mobs have become a serious concern elsewhere—including London's recent riots—such organized fun, in most parts of the world, would be regarded as yet another youthful rite of passage.
But that doesn't apply in Iran, where a seemingly innocent gathering, especially one that involves men and women interacting, can be cast as a decadent rebellion against the government.
"These events are a disgrace to our revolution. Our security forces and judiciary must stop the spreading of these morally corrupt actions," said conservative lawmaker Hossein Ibrahimi, according to official media.
Although the water wars and the government response have a comically absurd quality, the recent tension shows how fearful the regime is of its young.
Iran is one of the world's youngest countries, with 65 percent of its 75 million people under the age of 30. The Islamic Republic imposes strict social codes that call for segregation of sexes in school and some public spaces and demands a conservative demeanor from citizens.
Authorities are particularly sensitive to events organized through social-networking sites in light of the pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings where youth mobilized through Facebook and toppled governments.
Fars News Agency, affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, blamed Zionists and Americans for corrupting the minds of the youth and coaxing them into water parks.
Pictures of the young women, their tight coats and colorful scarves drenched, squirting water at young men in wet, tight T-shirts surfaced on websites and newspapers, creating an uproar that reached the parliament.
The water wars have become a ripe subject for jokes in Iran.
"What kind of a country do we have? Even a water gun can shake its foundations?" writes a reveler named Ashkan on his Facebook page.
Security forces are hunting organizers and participants of the water episode through their Facebook accounts and have detained some of their friends. The Facebook page for Water Wars in Tehran has over 19,000 members and 22 local chapters for cities across Iran, including conservative small cities like Marageh.
Earlier this month, police arrested the administrators of the Facebook page for Shiraz Water Wars, and 17 young men and women who were playing in a water park in the southern coastal city of Bandar Abbas were detained, according to media reports. Authorities also paraded young people on television, forcing them to confess—a move typically reserved for political detainees.
"Police will deal forcefully with park violators who are threatening the security and peace of our society," Tehran police chief Hussein Sajedina said.
Farzan, a 22-year-old university student who was one of the organizers of the Tehran water war, says police tracked him down through Facebook and raided his house in the middle of the night. He was arrested, held for three days and beaten up, he says. He has a court case pending.
Shaghayegh, who escaped the park, received a call from national security police earlier this month and went to Vozarra detention center in Tehran where she says she was held and interrogated all day. She was released after a written pledge not to participate in any more water wars.
Young Iranians say although the event started out as innocent fun, it has now turned political. They are vowing to challenge them with more events.
A nationwide water war is scheduled for Friday, after the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Some toy stores have suspended selling toy guns, which go for between $25 and $35, until the scandal subsides despite an increase in demand.
"Every day I have dozens of young people coming in to the shop asking for water guns," said one shopkeeper at a toy store in downtown Tehran. "Our youth won't give up this easily."