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Controversial Iranian rapper reignites clash between Reformists, hard-liners

An Iranian rapper's weed-smoking at a concert in Georgia has given Reformists another chance to attack rival conservatives, who once idolized the controversial singer.

Political controversy has never ceased to surround the artistic career of Iranian rapper Amir Hossein Maghsoudlou, known by his fans as Amir Tataloo. On March 24, the 35-year-old rapper created a fresh backlash of furious reactions during his latest performance at a Tbilisi concert attended by hundreds of Iranians. Tataloo apparently smoked marijuana on stage and even encouraged his fans to do so.

The unconventional behavior also drew the ire of many Georgians, who staged a protest outside of the Iranian Embassy in Tbilisi. In an official statement, the embassy expressed regret at what happened, declared that it had no role in organizing the event and made it clear that "the person in question" was facing legal charges at home.

Once a banned underground rapper, Tataloo turned into the apple of the eye of the powerful hard-liners overnight after he sang on a warship in praise of Iran's armed forces.

While broadly condemned on social media, Tataloo's Tbilisi show reopened an older file. Reformists found the case another embarrassment for rival conservatives, who once threw their backing behind him despite the apparent contradictions in his conduct with the basic religious principles promoted by Iran's conservatives. Ebrahim Raisi, the camp's candidate in the 2017 presidential elections, raised eyebrows after a video was released showing his brief exchange with Tataloo, as the latter endorsed the current chief justice. The gesture was seen as an attempt by Raisi's campaign to win votes from among Tataloo's Instagram followers, who exceeded 5 million back then.

Tataloo dealt hard-liners another huge blow last September when he posted online an obscenely worded message, offending followers of Shiite Islam and their highly revered third Imam, Hussein ibn Ali. Tataloo has even gone further by his occasional sexist and insulting posts against women in separate social media posts.

An article on Khabar-e Jonoob, a pro-reform daily, called Tataloo a "foul-mouthed" singer and slammed hard-liners for looking the other way as their once-favored singer "offered a complete embodiment of corruptness" in the Georgian capital.

This time, however, the hard-liners are but all defenseless. The government, they argue, is placing extra focus on the Tataloo scandal to cover up "mismanagement" of deadly floods that have gripped much of the country in one of the worst natural disasters in Iran's recent history.

As floods deluged many provinces, Hessamoddin Ashna, a powerful figure within President Hassan Rouhani's circle, posted an online poll asking his followers whether a documentary should be made on Tataloo — apparently to discredit him. The post met an endless barrage of angry comments. Users hit out at Rouhani's adviser for neglecting the plight of thousands of the flood-stricken and instead highlighting the political and trivial case of Tataloo. 

"Floodwaters have inundated rooftops in Khorramabad [west Iran]. The pro-government mouthpieces … better stop diverting the attention from the government failures toward Tataloo's case," tweeted Maryam Rastegar, an Iranian poet and political activist, as others joined her in reminding the government that there is much more to be worried about with the deadly weather conditions these days.

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