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Young Iranians, once avid reformers, leave politics behind

Many who once called for change have turned away from politics altogether and won't be voting in Friday's election.

Entrepreneur: Alireza Mahfouzian stands in front of his 'Kase' fast -food restaurant in Tehran. The one-time rebellious youth is focused on keeping his business alive in touch economic times and has little interest in Friday's parliamentary election.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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Alireza Mahfouzian knows how it feels on the front line of Iran's culture wars. When he graduated from high school, the police shaved off his too-radical long hair. He has been in court 20 times for social infractions and boasts that he knew the courthouse "room by room."

Caught drinking alcohol years ago, he received 75 lashes to his back – all the price, he says, of growing up and testing limits in the Islamic Republic.

But Mr. Mahfouzian is now older and wiser and has come to terms with the restrictions of Iran. Like many here in their late 20s and early 30s who were once foot soldiers in Iran's reform movement, he has given up on politics and has little interest in Friday's vote for the 290-seat parliament. Hundreds of reformists have been disqualified in an election that amounts to a referendum on this country's conservative leadership.

"They are walking away from the state. They are pushing away politics," says Hamid Reza Jalaiepour, a sociologist at Tehran University. "I call this the 'Era of Rethinking.' These days Iranians are thinking how they can find a better way."

Few doubt that conservatives – many loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – will maintain their majority in parliament. But past reform icons, such as former President Mohammad Khatami, are calling for high turnout anyway, arguing that every reformist seat chips away at hard-line dominance.

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