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A 'Celler's' Market for Information in Iran

The most talked about confrontation in Tehran these days began normally enough. A young woman walking down the street, hiding only half her hair, was accosted by the morality police, called a slut and told to cover up.

The incident became interesting when the girl responded with a Bruce Lee-like whoop and aimed a kick at her tormentor’s midsection. The girl knew martial arts, as she convincingly demonstrated to the approving cheers of the crowd that gathered around her to watch the whupping.

What made it famous? Someone recorded it on a cell phone. Within hours, it was local legend.

Zohre, a well-known actress, decided to imitate Paris Hilton by taping herself having sex. What she didn’t know was that her partner recorded the event, uploaded the steamy imagery to his cell phone, Bluetoothed it from one corner of Tehran to the other and put Zohre’s good name and career in jeopardy.

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Nor did the popular and outwardly pious religious singer named Helali expect video of him entertaining two young girls without headscarves to become a backstreet hit. Today, Helali is singing the blues.

Islamic rule in Iran has withstood 28 years of Western outrage, economic boycotts and careful disdain by Iranians who long for more personal freedom. But the regime might not survive the cell phone, which Iranians are turning from a means of communication into a means of political protest.

Nearly every young Iranian — in a land where 70 percent of the population of 73 million is under 30 — owns a mobile phone. And every day tens of millions use them to send text messages, pictures and videos to their friends.

"No one uses a landline anymore," says Mossegh, a 20-something clothing salesman. "First of all, most of them don’t work. And anyway, I communicate with my friends by SMS, not calls. Calling just isn’t cool."

Set, who works in an electronics store in northern Tehran, says all his customers want the Nokia N95, because of its high quality camera, which can take and transmit pictures and videos of startling quality.

Pornography, of course, is the favored commodity, even in this Islamic theocracy. Knots of snickering teenage boys stare slack-jawed at the images of naked, writhing bodies they have downloaded, then exchange the images on their cell phones at coffee bars and pizza shops.

Other, less prurient Iranians belong to a chain mail of jokes about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose irregular hygiene habits are the stuff of endless banter. "I walked in the ocean with just my socks on," begins one joke making the rounds. "Now our talented Iranian scientists are figuring out how to replace all the water."

When the country’s soccer team was knocked out of the World Cup in the first round last year, a torrent of angry fans attributed the loss to the team’s sexual deficiencies. Ethnic minorities like Turks and Arabs are the victims of crude innuendo and puns, such as one suggesting the classic curving Turkish nose has more than olfactory purposes.

But more than anything, the rise of shared videos alarms the government, to the degree that private service providers can no longer offer MMS — multimedia services — until appropriate filters are developed.

That won’t stop bawdy file sharers like Balthazar, who owns an impressive collection of clips. "Haven’t these idiots ever heard of Bluetooth?" he asks, before offering a Photoshopped video of Ahmadinejad at a circus. Hint: The president is not sitting in the audience.

John Moody is executive vice president of Fox News.

Click here for FOXNews.com's Iran center.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Vatican correspondent and Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books, including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."