• 10 January 2008
  • Posted By Arash Hadjialiloo
  • Events in DC, Panel Discussion

The Youth Boom in Iran

In the world of demography, the term “demographic gift” refers to a situation where fertility and mortality rates fall and the resulting shift in population creates an influx of working age young people in a nation. This “boom” can help turn an entire nation around as a flood of young citizens can rejuvenate a lagging economy or bolster a weakened government. While a large workforce can be a powerful asset for a country, it will be difficult for Iran to develop opportunities for its youth without radical policy changes.

In order to address these issues, the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings institute, partnered with the Dubai School of Government hosted a panel discussion concerning the evolving demographic changes and the political economy of specific Middle Eastern countries. Titled “From Oil Boom to Youth Boom: Tapping the Middle East Demographic Gift,” the forum included an analysis from Virginia Tech Professor of Economics and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, Djavad Salehi Isfahani.

Isfahani covered issues ranging from unemployment to the inability of the government to give opportunities to its educated young people to the difficulty of impoverished Iranians to marry. Isfahani believes that Iran must pursue economic and educational reform in order to take full advantage of the boom. He claimed that the current system lacked the ability to supply satisfying jobs for qualified Iranians with even the most prestigious of educations.

Another major reason for the lack of development in the Iranian economy is due to the general sentiment amongst the Iranian students that a solution will come from the powers that be. Isfahani mentioned the story of an Iranian student with 17 years of education who makes a living selling fruit from a street stall. “The government can solve all our problems if they set their minds to it,” the student said.

Recent actions by both the current and previous administrations have canceled each other out. President Khatami had worked to develop job funding as an effort to stimulate the economy and present more opportunities for young graduates. Current president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has since replaced the job funding with the “love fund,” an effort to subsidize marriage for impoverished Iranians. But it is precisely the lack of money from new jobs that has caused the current stall in youth marriages.

Iran currently stands with most of the Middle East in terms of its burgeoning youth population (people aged between 15-29) which is nearing 25 million. According to Isfahani, Iran is poised to find this demographic explosion as more of a challenge than an opportunity. Of the youth population, which recently overcame the number of adults (aged 30-60), the proportion of unemployed is bordering on the insupportable with 2.3 million of the nation’s 3 million unemployed coming from this age group.

Isfahani focused on the current education system in Iran and its use of the “concour,” a largely memorization-based national exam that is the overriding indicator of a student’s academic future and, according to Isfahani, a major reason for the need for education reform in Iran. He referred to the concour as the cause of Iran’s overly diploma oriented culture that results in the primacy of memorization and technical knowledge over creativity as well as the disillusionment of all but the most intelligent students (a large number of students do not qualify for exclusive areas of study such as engineering). Isfahani says that this system precipitates long periods of unemployment for individuals and general dissatisfaction.

The Iranian government has recently begun implementing a program that will completely eliminate the concour by 2011 and refocus the educational system around high school grades. According to Isfahani, small changes like the end of the concour are a good beginning but will do little if not followed by more progressive, long-term changes.

Posted By Arash Hadjialiloo

    2 Responses to “The Youth Boom in Iran”

  1. ahadjialiloo says:

    Does anyone have any feeling for or against the removal of the concour in Iran? It will be completely removed from the education system in 2011. How does the SAT or ACT stand up against the concour?

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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