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Exiled Iranian Satirist Still Mocks Ruling Elites

It's not easy to make fun of people who want to imprison you, but satirist Ebrahim Nabavi has made a career of it. The prolific Iranian writer and performer, on tour in the US, is interviewed by Saideh Jamshidi.
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There is a mantra among the people who know Ebrahim Nabavi: “don’t mess with Nabavi.” One of his friends writes on his website, “With no doubt, it is against all common sense to go up against Nabavi. With his incomparable wit he can easily defeat any opponent, and if necessary, drag him through the mud.”

Nabavi is a prolific Iranian satirist, diarist and writer. In 1998, he gained wide-spread recognition for his political satire writings published in Jameh, the first reformist privately-owned newspaper in Iran. His approach has been to select a political official or a cleric and then conduct an imaginary interview with him.

Nabavi has been able to write about forbidden political or social topics such the history of homosexuality in Iran or conducting an imaginary interview with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. After he was imprisoned for his writing in 2000 and 2002, he decided to leave Iran for Belgium.

Nabavi has published more than 50 books on different topics and in different languages. He is considered an important figure for those who follow Iran.

He is currently in the US, touring around the country, giving speeches about his latest book, Kashkool, and performing stand-up comedy in more than nine cities.

Al-Monitor had a chance to talk with him in Persian and ask him a few questions.

Who is your favorite character?

My favorite character is Mr. Ahmadinejad himself. He is the funniest one. Ahmadinejad believes strongly in very stupid ideas. For instance, in his speeches in Europe, he tries to present a good image of Iran when he says ‘We have absolute freedom in Iran.’ Well, the government and other official conservative organizations have shut down more than 300 periodicals during the last 10 years. In fact, his government has ordered many of the closures of those papers. When he says we have absolute freedom in Iran, people laugh at him. Or he says ‘we don’t have any homosexuals in Iran,’ when a good portion of Iran’s literature is about love stories between same sexes. I think he is the best Iranian comic character that I could ever have had.

Will you miss Mr. Ahmadinejad when he leaves office?        

This is one of my biggest regrets. He was a blessing for me. When he became president, I wrote a 600-page book about his first nine months in office. It was very easy to find satire in his speeches and actions. I sometimes had too many [topics] to choose from. I think when the highest political office in the country acts unintelligently, one can predict that that attitude will pass on to other departments in his cabinet. We have about 10 to 15 of these geniuses in the current government.

But in contrast, during Khatami’s presidency I wrote a 120-page book called Mr. President which was about his first four-year term as president. It was difficult to find satire in his speeches or actions.

 Who is going to be the next president?

If the officials in the establishment are determined to resolve a part of Iran’s crisis, they must let a reformist win the election. I think they have to let Mr. Khatami become president because he can return the country to the previous eight years [the way it used to be under Khatami’s two terms]. Mr. Ahmadinejad has destroyed Iran’s economy. On the other hand, the ultra-conservatives have shown that they cannot govern the country even if they have all of the political, social, and economic tools that the establishment offers them. Even if a reformist president can only return the country to eight or ten years ago, he has done something extraordinary.

Is this doable?

Well, Sepah [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC] doesn’t have any other plan but to fight against the west. On the other hand, Sepah has swallowed Iran’s economy. They neither can digest it, nor can they throw it up. They are at an impasse right now. The conservatives prefer a reformist president rather than ultra-conservative government.

What would be the outcome if the reformists take control?

The whole country will change dramatically. Iranians want more freedom; they want less political and social tensions; they want less conflict with their neighbors and with the West. The officials know that. I think they will end up choosing between a war against the US or having a reformist president in power.   

At the end of the interview, Al-Monitor asked Nabavi to share one of his favorite satires.  

Iranian Internationalism

By Ebrahim Nabavi

The question as to why we Iranians are so strange and irrational has probably crossed your mind in the past. I will try to explain why.

We Iranians wake up in Tehran. Our place of business and shopping is Dubai, across the Persian Gulf. Our talents are discovered in Tehran, but they blossom in Europe. We go to Paris or London to be educated. But since we do not like to work in Europe, we end up in Los Angeles.

Whenever we get fired, we end up in Central Europe to collect our dole, or unemployment “benefits”.

Our television programs are broadcast from Los Angeles and received in Khorramabad, Iran. We make our movies shooting our deserts, but show them in Paris and Berlin where we are awarded.

In Cologne we are Republican, and in Tehran we are Monarchist. Our most important writing takes place in Vienna, but is read in Paris. Our candidates are selected in Washington, but they are disqualified in Tehran. In Berlin, we boycott the elections, while in London we decide to hold a referendum. And in Holland we are in the Parliament.

In Tehran we oppose the government, in Iraq we fight the regime, and in Lebanon we support the government.

In Tehran, we launch a rock concert, while our traditional music is welcomed by Germans in Frankfurt. In Ankara, we participate in Iranian pop concerts, but we dance in Antalya. In Canada we win the beauty pageant; in Mashhad our women’s rights are violated, while in Sweden the rights of Iranian women are defended.

Our king is in the US, while our empress lives in a French city. Our former president lives in Paris and the chief of our judiciary was born in Iraq. In return, Iraq’s prime minister lived in Iran for years, and Israel’s President was born in Iran.

We live in Iran, have fun in Turkey, become rich in the United States, and return to Iran to die.

Saideh Jamshidi is an American-Iranian journalist, filmmaker and editor covering the Middle East news, and Muslim women for Global Press Institute, and Saideh worked in major newspapers in Iran before settling in the US as a foreign correspondent.

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