The Eulogist Mafia and Civil Society

Share this:

Eulogy in Iran is a new phenomenon with historical roots. It is new in the sense that it has led to the formation of a new network in the social layers of modern Iran, and old in the sense that the relationship between praise and power has historical roots in Iranian culture.

But how did this network form? What role does it play in Iranian civil society, and what role does it play between civil society and the power structure?
In early January, Mahmoud Karimi, a famous eulogist, fired six bullets at the opposing car with his waist gun during a scuffle resulting from a car accident and left the scene.

When the occupants of the Peugeot 206 complained about being shot at by the eulogist, and it was revealed that he performed ceremonies in the presence of Iran’s leader, public questions about where this case would lead filled the newspapers and social networks. However, after a while, the complainants withdrew their complaint, and the case was closed.

After this incident, a question was raised in Iranian society: Why can eulogists have weapons, and why do they enjoy the support of the judiciary and security apparatus?

In February, Abdul-Hussein Mokhtabad, a singer and member of the Tehran City Council, wrote to some conservative students who criticized his concert at Milad Tower: “Those who talk like this should go and ask some of the eulogists whose banners and advertisements are installed in the farthest parts of the city, who reportedly own private companies, engage in export and import, and are involved in buying and selling ships, where they get this money from, and how the cost of their extensive advertising is provided.”

However, he never referred to which of the eulogists were engaged in import and export but alluded to speculations about the extralegal power and immunity of this group. But who are the eulogists, and how did they become a group with ironclad immunity to the point where some refer to them as the “Eulogist Mafia”?”

The History of the Eulogy Tradition in Iran

Although some opinions trace the history of eulogy in Iranian culture back to pre-Islamic times, the emergence of this type of eulogy must be attributed to the period after the disintegration of the Abbasid Empire and the emergence of Shiite states in the Islamic world, especially during the Safavid era. On the other hand, Naser al-Din Shah’s travels to Europe and his observation of European theaters played a significant role in the emergence of these ceremonies. Tekyehs (religious theaters) and Ta’ziehs (religious plays) were gradually established in imitation of the Shah throughout the country. Over time, the clergy also endorsed and encouraged this style.

During the first Pahlavi era, the holding of eulogies was banned, but due to the connection of the organizers of these ceremonies with various social classes, it was not forgotten. During the second Pahlavi era, these ceremonies took deeper roots, especially among the lower and traditional middle classes, represented by the bazaar. After the revolution, with the blending of epic poems and sometimes elegiac verses during the war, part of these ceremonies – namely eulogizing – became significantly prominent and utilized.

In fact, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war was a turning point for the new eulogy movement in Iran. During this period, many eulogists became active and gained significant influence within the ruling structure. Examples include Sadeq Ahangaran and Gholam Koveitipour. The influence of eulogists like Ahangaran was such that he was used to encourage soldiers before military attacks. He later received a general’s rank. Many other eulogists who became famous during the war also received high positions in the Revolutionary Guards due to their presence on the battlefronts.

However, after the war and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the eulogy movement entered a new phase, led by a person named Hossein Sazvar. Hossein Sazvar was one of the forces in Ayatollah Khamenei’s office and was responsible for one of the information protection sections of the Leader’s house. Being one of the trusted forces of the Leader of the Islamic Republic, he was able to have a more important position among other eulogists in the Leader’s house, and this led him to take control of the eulogy movement in Iran.

After leaving the Leader’s house, Hossein Sazvar, due to his past responsibility for several major religious congregations in Tehran and the country, and also his close relationship with the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Basij, was able to take control of the mourning congregations and the eulogy network.

Eulogists: Intermediaries of Power Over Civil Society

Eulogists are individuals who have mostly grown up in religious families and have gradually connected with the class that has become the origin of government, through various periods associated with war and religious occasions. They have infiltrated this class and aligned themselves with the sources of power.

This connection took shape on the fringes of the war after the revolution. Eulogists were the driving force behind the promotion and propagation of the messages of the Islamic Republic, playing a serious role in stirring revolutionary emotions. This led to their continued support after the war, not only opening their way to radio and television but also effectively being used for political campaigning, parliamentary and presidential elections, and support for groups and individuals within the government.

Such access was accompanied by financial support and their access to political and security power. They were supported by individuals and institutions affiliated with the government, such as the Basij. Organizations that felt a great need to organize forces during the reform era.

This council was established after the war by some senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, including General Nejat (Commander of the Revolutionary Guards and Deputy of the Supreme National Security Council), General Mohammad Esmaeil Kowsari, General Bagheri, General Saadollah Zarei, Hojjat al-Islam Ahmad Khatami, Alireza Panahian, Hojjat al-Islam Saadati, Haj Sadeq Ahangaran, and General Madahi. They created an extensive network in the country, established branches in all provinces and cities, and generally used the Revolutionary Guards commanders of that city and province as the head of the council there.

This current of eulogists, considered to some extent a traditional current, began to organize forces across the country with the support and facilities provided by the Revolutionary Guards, as one of the arms of the Basij. The system’s respect for these individuals is such that one day a year (the birthday of the Prophet’s daughter) is dedicated to a meeting with Mr. Khamenei at the “Imam Khomeini” Hussainiya, proposed by Hossein Sazvar for the eulogists. Many influential layers and currents have been deprived of such a privilege, and even the entry cards for that day’s ceremony are given to Sazvar so that everyone gathers under his umbrella.

The position of eulogists in the country today is at a level where they can be considered on par with the clergy and even as a serious competitor to them. The role of eulogists in civil society will be the subject of a case that will be further explored in the future.

Launch login modal Launch register modal