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Iranians Push Boundaries Of Social Freedoms Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Amin Zendegani, artist, has invited other Iranian artists and athletes to a "dance challenge" in support of health workers fighting against coronavirus.

Videos showing Iranian health workers in their coronavirus protective suits dancing in hospitals flooded social media timelines recently and now taking their cue from Italians in quarantine, people in a Tehran neighborhood have begun playing music at night and singing to it from their windows.

The singing and dancing at the time of coronavirus epidemic in Iran is a completely different story from Italy and China which inspired Iranians.

The Islamic Iran is a land of contradictions where singing of women and dancing in public (for both sexes) is prohibited, yet, there is hardly any private party or gathering that goes without music and dances. Iran's morality police often raids even family parties if they get wind of dancing or drinking.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of "managed" concerts every year and shops where one can buy musical instruments, but the state-run television which broadcasts only certain types of music, never actually shows a music instrument being played.

The coronavirus-related singing and dancing in Iran can be interpreted as pushing the boundaries of social freedoms in a country governed by Islamic law. A good measure of much-need activities to lift public morale in the face of a crisis of climactic proportions is also involved in the acts.

People of Ekbatan singing along and dancing to a pop song.

On Sunday the first of the videos of a whole neighborhood singing from windows in Ekbatan Township in western Tehran were posted on social media and quickly went viral. From their wide-open windows the Ekbatanis, as they have come to be known, played songs and sang along to them for hours. Some even danced to the pop songs they played on speakers behind the huge windows running across the buildings. They whistled, clapped and shouted out to others to join in.

In the pre-coronavirus days, security forces would react to such a scene and would try to identify who started the singing and dancing in order to arrest them.

The songs ranged from O' Iran, a secular patriotic song in praise of the motherland often heard at political gatherings and a popular alternative to the Islamic national anthem, to pop songs from the community of Iranians in Los Angeles. People also sang a pre-revolutionary song by the Iranian music diva Hayedeh that says sorrows will not last. My Iran, a song by Shajarian, a classical maestro whose songs can never be heard on the state-run television was a favorite of Ekbatanis on the second night of their window-choir.

Stuck At Home Because Of Coronavirus, Iranians Band Together In Song
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The planned township with an estimated population of around 100,000 and its block of apartment buildings is a neighborhood with hundreds of shops and its own stadiums, schools, hospitals and a mega mall. The township where the group action started is very popular with artists, writers and families of professionals who are politically quite anti-establishment.

The spontaneous move has drawn both praise, and some envy, from social media users from other neighborhoods. There is also criticism and even anger from vigilantes whose choice of window-action would have been recitation of the Qoran and other prayers. Many have pointed out that law enforcement will soon take action to put a stop to the window-action of Ekbatanis.

What has been happening in Ekbatan is not easy to repeat in many other areas of Tehran and other cities. In Ekbatan the architecture of the township and the darkness of the night offer a good degree of anonymity which can be very helpful for not getting caught by the police or being reported by vigilantes. Ekbatanis have promised to continue their window-action, at least until Nowrouz, the Iranian New Year celebrated on March 21 and beyond.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.