Party for 2,000 starts Iran's drive for low-key weddings

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The Independent Online

To the strains of a brass band and the flashing of strobe lights, 2,000 Iranian newly weds partied late into last night as part of a government campaign to promote modest weddings.

To the strains of a brass band and the flashing of strobe lights, 2,000 Iranian newly weds partied late into last night as part of a government campaign to promote modest weddings.

The couples, most of them students, had married in register offices but, instead of scraping together the £500 that is necessary for the simplest wedding party, they celebrated at the government's expense.

The party may have been tame by Western standards; a gala performance of well-known television theme tunes, skits and poetry was a strictly sedentary affair. But the show, beamed by state television around the country, was useful for conveying a message: you don't need to waste money to enjoy your wedding.

Over the next two weeks, a total of 14,000 young couples will reinforce that message when they attend similar events around the country.

The programme is the government's response to fears that wedding parties are ruining Iranian families.

"The prophet Mohammad said that the best weddings are modest ones," announced a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, at the beginning of the show. But Iranians have, up until now, tended to disregard that axiom; even more than in the West, giving lavish weddings with hundreds of guests is a way of showing off status.

But last night, each couple only invited four guests - and it was the different arms of the state that vied with one another to show off their largesse.

Ayatollah Khamenei gave each couple the traditional wedding gift of a gold coin worth about £45. Iran's top judge pledged a smaller gold coin, worth half as much. The ministry with responsibility for the telephone network is to propel all 14,000 couples to the top of the queue for a line, which can take up to two years to get.

Whatever the reservations shown by their parents, many of the brides were only too happy to save for the inevitable expenses of married life. One confessed that her parents had had mixed feelings about the idea. "But they could always have offered me a lavish wedding party, and they didn't."

From the popularity of the mass wedding scheme, which started three years ago with 100 couples, it seems that attitudes are starting to change. But there is little chance wealthy Iranians will take note of the prophet's advice. In swanky northern Tehran, weddings costing £100,000 are common.

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