TEHRAN — For the second time in just a few days, large crowds of young revelers filled the streets of the Iranian capital late Tuesday and early Wednesday in celebratory street rallies. The capital of the Islamic Republic has suddenly become a party town.
The reason to make merry this time wasn’t political. Fans were rejoicing that the national soccer team qualified for the 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil after beating South Korea, 1-0.
The victory in a tense match prompted thousands to take to the streets cheering, waving flags and dancing to the steady sound of honking cars, which kept many Tehran residents up until the early hours.
Pictures circulating on social media show smiling young men and women carrying Iranian flags and with flags painted on their faces milling around the streets.
The scenes were reminiscent of Saturday evening, when thousands of ecstatic Iranian youths took to the streets to cheer the surprise victory of moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani in the presidential election.
Rowhani, the consensus choice of reformers seeking change, has promised to promote dialogue in foreign relations and to grant more freedoms at home.
The twin celebrations have injected some life back into the Iranian capital, where the economic downturn and threats of conflict with the West have caused a general malaise among people struggling to pay their bills amid inflated prices and deflated salaries.
The soccer bravado produced not only impromptu street parties but also some political sloganeering, as activists tapped the jubilant mood to disseminate their messages.
“End the house arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi!” crowds chanted, referring to opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the presidential candidates in Iran's disputed 2009 election.
“Our message is clear: Their house arrest should be lifted!” the chant continued.
Some young women were also heard chanting for the end of the female dress code.
But the daring chants troubled several broad-shouldered young men among the multitudes.
“Our demands must not be too radical,” said the cautious revelers. “Dr. Rowhani must be given a chance and a grace period.”
President-elect Rowhani’s media team took to Twitter to join in the festivities.
“Congratulations to my dear people on occasion of our qualification to the 2014 FIFA #WorldCup in Brazil,” read the tweet from Rowhani's account. “So #proud of our national team!”
Soccer is a big deal in the Islamic Republic. Even Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, weighed in on the victory, albeit in his stern fashion.
“In the name of God,” Khamenei said, “the victory of the national football team has made many people happy, especially sports fans. I thank the dear footballers.”
Putting somewhat of a damper on the party, the Iranian football federation clarified that only men would be permitted to go to Tehran’s Azadi stadium Wednesday to welcome home the national team, according to local news reports. Turnout at the stadium was light and low-key compared with the evening revelry.