Sex in Iran


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Sex in Iranhe film begins with a dark haired man in his mid 20s lying naked on a bed, hands behind his head, casually enjoying sex. Reaching out, he takes hold of the camera and swings it around to reveal the attractive brunette who's on top of him. About the same age and wearing nothing but a smile, she rides him, coolly allowing a creaking twin bed to make all the noise within the red-hued confines of the small, dimly lit room. The pleasure on her face is unmistakable and, to many in the strict Islamic country of Iran, so is the face itself.

Zahra Amir Ebrahimi is one of that nation's most ascendant actresses, known for portraying religious, morally upstanding characters on a trio of the past few years' top rated TV soaps: Help Me, Strangeness and, most famously, Narges, a prince-and-the-pauper-type drama about the trials and tribulations of a wealthy patriarch's three children, which was watched by 68 percent of the Iranian audience during its run. Now here she allegedly is, both dominant and submissive, on a 26 minute and 17 second recording, giving a performance that's causing a storm in her homeland. Nicknamed Narges 2, the film seems to depict three encounters of tender lovemaking involving scenes of leisurely foreplay, fellatio and ejaculation. Though dimly lit and photographed with a not always advantageously positioned camera, the home movie is burning up the Internet, and a DVD has sold an estimated 100,000 copies and grossed about $4 million -- a record in the annals of Iranian moviemaking -- since the story broke last October. But all may not be as it seems, at least according to Ebrahimi.

Dubbed Iran's Paris Hilton and interrogated multiple times at the request of Tehran's hard-line chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, Ebrahimi strenuously denies participating in the sex tape, which her ex-partner and co-star has reportedly claimed they filmed at her apartment a couple of years ago. Instead she insists the man authorities call Mr. X -- identified by our sources as Shahram Shahamat, an aspiring film director -- employed a look-alike actress and professional montage techniques to create a fake video in order to ruin Ibrahimi's career after she jilted him because of his infidelity. If her story is true, he did a pretty convincing job. If not, she could be in real trouble. Were she convicted of violating morality laws, Ebrahimi would face the possibility of a public lashing with a leather strap, jail time or worse.

Initially rumored by the Iranian media to have committed suicide while in police custody, Ebrahimi has been barred by authorities from speaking publicly. However, she made a statement to the Iranian Labor News Agency in November 2006, saying in a sarcastic tone, "I wish to reassure or at least inform my friends that I, Zahra Ebrahimi, the so-called actress who looks very much like the one who appears in the movie that's been exchanging hands since the middle of Ramadan, am in good health, and as yet I haven't found enough reason to kill myself."

Whatever the truth, Ebrahimi has had the ironic experience of becoming a fixture on the front pages of several of the independent but tightly controlled daily papers (on state-run TV and radio the story got minimal play) while watching her career go down the tubes. Although Narges was on hiatus when the scandal broke, release of her two recent movies, A Trip to Heidaloo and It's a Star, has been delayed on the advice of authorities while the investigation continues. Since she hasn't been charged, no ban has been ordered, but in Iran it would be more than a little foolish to ignore such advice. Within a year of the 1979 revolution that saw the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrow the Shah's government, Iran was converted from the region's most Westernized society into a restrictive Islamic republic. For many this amounted to a hijacking -- the democratically chosen replacement for a royal despot transformed the country into a hard-line theocracy. The subsequent mass migration, coupled with the countless executions of activists and deposed power brokers labeled mofsed e fel arz -- the most corrupt on earth -- left behind a population composed of people who either supported the government or were too exhausted to resist, all of whom were expected to reject Western values in favor of strict Islamic law. Once the government realized this was impossible to enforce, it settled for public obeisance to morality laws and focused on raising a new generation that would passionately embrace the regime.

It was targeting a large group. Iran is now home to around 70 million people, but because of mass fatalities in the war with Iraq in the 1980s and an officially sanctioned baby boom, the country has a median age of 25, one of the world's youngest. Yet despite the government's indoctrination, it appears that many young Iranians have rejected traditional beliefs. The Ebrahimi scandal provides us with a window into the psyche of people who quite simply have developed their own philosophical outlook: Live now, and let the future take care of itself. More important, the Narges 2 video exposes the double standards within Iranian culture that toy with Islamic rules, lifting the veil on a schizoid society that juxtaposes religious fundamentalism with a youthful lust for sex, drink, drugs, parties and material possessions. The very idea that Ebrahimi could have been a willing participant flies in the face of a society torn between tradition and modernity, unsure of its identity and ambivalent about moral values and social norms.

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