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Ebrahim Nabavi speaking in Toronto

Political satire of Ebrahim Nabavi reaches abroad 

By: Pedram Moallemian

Whether you agree with his point of view or not, there is no doubt that Ebrahim Nabavi has single handedly brought back a long tradition of political satire writing to the Iranian print media. 

His daily commentaries under various titles (Sotoone Panj, Sotoone Chahar, Chehel Sotoon, Bi-Sotoon, to name a few) and publications (Toos, Neshat, Asre-Azadegan, etc.) are perhaps the most popular section of each of these papers. His column (sotoon) sells loads of papers and even this far away, is one of the most popular stops for their growing global Internet visitors.

Nabavi holds back no punches and shoots straight from the hip. Considering the limitations he faces, he gets away with much more than others using comedy to discuss some very serious subjects. He is not vulgar or insulting, but finds humor in some of the most mundane events of Iranian political life and exposes their hypocrisy.

He quotes a fellow co-worker, “maybe a cartoonist” who believes their job is to show the true face of politicians who so desperately try to portray a false image. He is vague on many details but has a good excuse for it, he has been brought to court many times, arrested and jailed and now says he can’t comment on some things any further “because I’m flying back to Iran in 10 days or so”.

When asked why he chose to write political satire, he is quick to point out that he always wonders why not others, maybe all Iranians don’t write political satire. After all, “how many countries can you name where the President is also the Leader of the Opposition?”

 Ebrahim Nabavi is in Toronto this week in response to an invitation from Shahrvand Publication ( and Vazhe cultural group ( It’s his first public appearance outside Iran. Even back home, he has only participated once in a similar style meeting arranged by students at a political science university. The Canadian program was organized weeks before the recent closure of his current paper (Asre-Azadegan) and arrest of some of his associates (Akbar Ganji, Latif Safari and his Editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin). 

Sunday night, he spoke in University of Toronto to a room packed with over 1,000 eager listeners. Probably more than one fire code regulation had to have been broken to allow people to sit in every corner of the large auditorium and even on the floors of corridors. Still, many were turned away disappointed, unable to get in. Organizers promised them a second “show” for Friday, May 16th. 

Overcrowded room at university of Toronto listening to Nabavi

The evening started with artists of the Vazhe group performing some of his sketches. After that Hassan Zerehi, the editor of Shahrvand was given the task of introducing his guest. He admitted it may be better for Nabavi to introduce him since he is by far better known but chose to bring in the main speaker by reading a short autobiography gathered from Nabavi’s many books. 

A small man with a grand moustache that reminds many of the 60’s era radicals, he is sharp, funny, witty and calculating. He answers questions with the expertise of a seasoned politician. Avoids some subjects by either stating his case for “returning in 10 days” or use his wonderful sense of humor to maneuver around touchy questions. He says much more with his silence, body language and tone of voice than anyone can expect. 

He starts by saying to the soundperson who is adjusting the microphones that “if you add one more, I’ll resemble Hashemi Rafsanjani. It’s one of his many comments that causes a thunderous laugh from the audience. He also gets several huge ovations, although most Iranians are too reserved to stand up for one. 

The supposed “left” extremists who are proud to have disrupted the Berlin conference last month are also present. They’ve even managed to bring in new faces from as far away as Sweden. Their presence is such a non-issue to most that many of them have to leave the room to show their frustrations outside the hall. When they get a chance to ask their questions, many choose instead to present passionate speeches that in one way or another ends in insulting the crowd, the speaker or his other colleagues. One after another they leave after the cold reception they get from the crowd. 

After the show, I get a chance to talk with him one-on-one over a savory dinner at a Persian Restaurant. It’s hard not to like him, as he comes across very humble, yet passionate, clever and sharp. 

He shows me samples of his new book that will be published shortly in both French and English. It’s a sample of some his best work put together in an attractive layout which combines his words with marvelous graphics done by a brilliant artist in Iran. He also has a web site under construction at

I ask if he is worried about returning to Iran since he may face an arrest again. He is convinced that it is “his duty” to go back and write what he writes because people demand it. He is also convinced that the “2nd of Khordad” movement is such a enormous populous development that in no way it could be stopped or set back. “The purveyors of violence will try all they can, they will harass and issue warrants, but even they know their end is near”. 

A day earlier, someone in Montreal asked him if he is a religious man, he answered with a resounding YES! Then added “I believe very strongly in a religion called Democracy”. Tonight the questions were more general. Somebody asked if it’s true Rafsanjani is now known as “Aghasi” in Tehran (referring to his 30th place finish in the last election) to which he just nodded his head in approval. 

Perhaps most surprising is his lack of grave concern about the recent media crackdown. In his analysis, he believes “they” needed to conduct the second round of the elctions without any “interference” from the outspoken press. In fact he believes the law they used in order to obtain temporary bans does not even apply to the press. “It wont stand a chance in the court they must hold to obtain permenant closures” he explains. He is certain that after this Friday’s elections and another expected setback for the hardliners, all papers will return. 

He also says “besides, all the papers have a back-up license to publish another paper if these current licenses are removed”.  When pushed, he also acknowledges that in the worst-case scenario, the Internet can also be used more extensively to reach their audience. 

I asked him why is it that when Salaam was closed last summer, the students took to the streets and now it all seems much more quiet. He sees this as the maturing of “the movement”. “They (hardliners) want disruption, they want chaos, they want to go to the outgoing Majlis and start an impeachment process because the President has showed he is unable to run the country” he says. He points out that they were so shocked not to get uprising, they tried to start one themselves. 

He adds “our Asre-Azadegan offices are probably 200 meters from Jame-Jam (state television building), one day we heard there was a demonstration planned to protest the role of state television in the current unrest. We knew it wasn’t true. There was no demonstration planned by anyone. They started the rumor themselves hoping some will show up and then they can turn it into something other than what it was. They need the commotion to continue their hold on power, but we are much wiser now”. 

Nabavi is a staunch supporter of the current non-violent reform movement. He strongly believes that a government who comes to power by force will inevitably turn violent against it’s detractors and points to a history of political upheaval in Iran as proof. “Only through a process of dialogue and non-confrontational contest can true democracy be established” he says. 

Perhaps the sad part is due to non-existence of any other democratic alternatives, his way is perhaps not only the best way but the only way.

Pedram Moallemian with Ebrahim Nabavi


Pedram Moallemian was the first Iranian nominated for a seat in Canada’s Federal Parliament when he ran for New Democratic Party in a suburb of Toronto in June of 1997. A former President of Iranian Community Association of Ontario, he currently works with many non-profit groups and campaigns and is the volunteer director of CIRCLE (Canadian Iranian Centre for Liberty & Equality), an advocacy human rights organization. He lives in Toronto and writes regularly for various publications both in Persian and English. You can contact him at:

Copyright 2000, Pedram Moallemian

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