This is a Tale of Two Irans

This is a tale of two Irans. This is, specifically, the tale of the other Iran.

The tale we hear most often focuses on natural resources like oil as their greatest asset or nuclear power as their greatest threat — a narrative frozen in time, stretching back decades with remembered pain on both sides. For many Americans, the reference point for Iran is still centered on the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran over 35 years ago; for others, it has focused on Iranian support for destabilizing regional actors against our interests and costing lives. At the same time, of course, Iranians have their own version of this tale: Many remember well U.S. support for a coup of their elected leadership, our support for a dictatorial regime and later encouragement of a war in Iraq that cost nearly a half-million Iranian lives.

Politics, power, mistrust: This is one version of how the media frames discussion of Iran. It’s very real, and it has much caution and evidence to support it.

But there’s another tale, one I saw repeatedly in my trip there last month. It was my second visit within the year, traveling with a group of senior global business executives to explore this remarkable and controversial nation.

This tale focuses on Iran’s next generation, an entirely new generation that came of age well after the Islamic Revolution, and on human capital, the greatest asset a country can have. It’s about technology as the driver for breaking down barriers even despite internal controls and external sanctions. People under age 35 represent nearly two-thirds of Iran’s population at this point: Many were engaged in the Green Movement protests against the Iranian presidential election in 2009. Most are utterly wired and see the world outside of Iran every day — often in the form of global news, TV shows, movies, music, blogs, and startups — on their mobile phones.

This is a tale we rarely hear about.

These perceptions — and the complicated details of trust building on both sides — are especially top of mind right now because of the fast-approaching deadline [June 30] for negotiations around the Iranian nuclear program. The negotiations, of course, will include when, how, and under what conditions to ease sanctions. The outcome of this agreement — and whether it even happens — will impact us in ways that we can’t yet understand, but it will also impact this new generation of Iranians even more. MORE

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