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
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.