Satire in the Iranian Constitutional Press: Introducing the Majalleh-ye Estebdad

The modern history of the satirical press in Iran narrates the rapid rise and fall of papers against the background of strict censorship interspersed with short spaces of comparative freedom. This essay focuses on a relatively unknown periodical, Majalleh-ye Estebdad (The Journal of Despotism), which was published in 1907-1908 in Tehran by Sheikh Mehdi of Qom (a.k.a. Sheikh al-Mamalek) who was also its writer and editor. Through a comprehensive survey of its various aspects against the backdrop of events and opposing factions, the essay examines the recurrent tension between overriding ideological tenets and the role of the satirist as a perceptive if allusive chronicler of complex and turbulent times.
In the context of the Iranian constitutional press, however, Majalleh-ye Estebdad represents a complexity: it is neither a true constitutionalist paper nor a true anti-constitutionalist one. It represents a quaint maneuvering between various standpoints, and that is perhaps why it has been forgotten and slipped into obscurity, as compare with periodicals such as Sour-e Esrafil or Nasim-e Shomal which have survived in public memory well beyond their time. Also, in spite of all potentialities of satire, the journal’s satirical dimension soon dries up. The fact that the journal, for the most part, had a single writer may have had something to do with Sheikh al-Mamalek’s unwillingness to bring others in, or perhaps with the possibility that others did not come forth; in either case, the character behind the journal seems to have been a decisive factor. Perhaps its single authorship, its recurrent dullness, and its author/editor’s hesitation to take a side helped to eliminate the satirical dimension—and thus, in this case, satire fails.

Ali Gheissari
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