In Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan but also among the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, some 300 million people are preparing to celebrate the Persian New Year, called Nowruz, Tuesday, March 21 at 00:54 and 26 seconds (21:24 GMT Monday).

This festival, inscribed on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage, marks the entry into the year 1402 of the Persian calendar, at the precise astronomical time of the spring equinox.

In Iran, Nowruz, celebrated for some 3,000 years, brought the country to a standstill for nearly two weeks. Tehran is emptying itself of its inhabitants who go to the four corners of the immense country, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea in the north to those of the Gulf in the south.

Millions of Iranians have started going on holiday to celebrate this holiday with their families. But this year, the festivities will have to adapt to the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, whose dates coincide. Although considered a pagan holiday, Nowruz has never really been challenged by the Islamic Republic that came to power in 1979.

"There is no doubt that Nowruz is a national holiday that existed before Islam. But it does not contradict any of the Muslim teachings," Mohsen Alviri, a Shiite cleric and historian of religion in Qom, told AFP. "Nowruz pays attention to the preservation of nature and emphasizes the elimination of resentments between people, respect for elders, visiting parents... These are values that are strongly recommended by Islam," he added.

Prohibition to eat in his car

Nevertheless, Iranians, who are mostly Muslims, will have to reconcile these traditions this year with the obligations of Ramadan, which is due to begin on March 22 or 23 for a month during which they are invited to abstain from dawn to dusk.

The dilemma will arise in particular for the closing of the Nowruz festivities, 12 days after the New Year, marked by the Sizdeh Bedar, or "day of nature", during which Iranians organize large picnics in the greenery.

In the advice to believers, Qom theologian Mohsen Alviri recommended gathering but "without eating" and "waiting for the hour of breaking the fast." "In Shiite jurisprudence, if the faithful travel a certain distance from their city of residence, they are considered travelers and may not fast," he said.

Will the authorities show tolerance? Last year, the attorney general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, recalled that "those who do not fast for one reason or another" were likely to be punished. Even eating in his car, which "is not considered a private space", is punishable, he said.

Mourning for victims of repression and inflation

While waiting for Nowruz, some Iranians say they do not want to celebrate after a difficult year marked by high inflation, around 50% and out of respect for the victims of the repression of the protest movement that shook the country after the death of Mahsa Amini. At least 530 people, including children, were killed in the protests that followed the arrest by the vice police of this young Iranian woman on September 16, 2022, according to various NGOs, including Human Rights Iran.

In the Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran, Razieh, a housewife in her fifties, is content to look at the stalls overflowing with colorful products for Nowruz. "I ask for prices, but without being able to buy much," she regrets.

"I've always been enthusiastic about Nowruz but I'm so sorry this year that I didn't even buy a goldfish and a pot of wheat shoots," two of the symbolic objects of the holiday, said Effat, a 75-year-old retiree.

With AFP

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