In an odd move unprecedented in the history of Iranian press, the government-owned newspaper, Iran, has published a 16-page special supplement about a eulogist.
The subject of the supplement, Mahmoud Karimi, is one of favorite 'maddahs' or eulogists of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who during three decades of his leadership, has given a special status to religious eulogists. A status some grand ayatollahs sometimes covet.
Under Khamenei, maddahs who used to sing tragic songs in graveyards for families of the deceased or chant tragic stories during the mourning month of Muharram to earn a living, are now the Islamic Republic’s political theoreticians, influential figures in political groups and government offices. They can put anybody’s business on fast track, albeit against a fee, using their influence as individuals close to Khamenei.
Even at election times, associations of eulogists conduct propaganda for candidates for a fee. The closer the eulogist is to Khamenei, the higher are his fees and of course his influence. Karimi enjoying that status is one of the richest and most famous eulogists of Tehran.
In 2005, a hundred maddahs signed a petition calling on the nation to vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for president. Before that, in 1997 Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri used eulogists to help his campaign.
A maddah who can make Khamenei weep during the Muharram mourning ceremonies can do anything during the year.
According to Rouydad24 website which featured a long report on the status and activities of eulogists, they are highly active and terribly busy during the months of Muharram and Safar on the lunar calendar which coincide with the death anniversary of key Shiite saints.
A maddah kneeling on front of Khamenei tokiss his hand
Islamic Iran’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini once said, “Islam (Shiism) is alive thanks to and because of these two months.” But eulogists do not just eulogize. They organize the Ashura and Arbaeen religious marches in the streets of Tehran and throughout the neighboring country of Iraq where they helped establish the Islamic Republic’s long reach.
Meanwhile, maddahs have been seen during protests since 2009 helping the IRGC to crack down on protesters. Mahmoud Karimi was one of them particularly in 2009. He is also famous for taking advantage of his position. Media reports in the 2010s include a story about him shooting at a driver who wanted to get past his car in one of Tehran’s tunnels.
Eulogists’ associations in downtown Tehran including the Islamic Coalition Party and the Mahdiyeh are famous for their political influence in hardliner circles and for bossing around state officials. Mansour Arazi, a renowned maddah is famous for using swear words against former Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani when he fell out with them, or when they fell out with Khamenei.
The 16-page supplement published by Iran newspaper on the first day of Muharram, was full of praise for Karimi. A singer who is not even the poet of what he sings. He is famous for copying, or as Iranian musicians say “covering” Bollywood movie songs with substandard Persian poetry. Sometimes, his eulogies have turned out to be controversial as he “covered” the famous songs of Los Angeles-based Iranian pop singers and moving to the beats of the music.
The extensive supplement includes an interview with Karimi’s mother as part of the publicity stunt. Meanwhile, the supplement quoted ultra conservative politician Saeed Jalili, the arch enemy of an agreement with the United States, as saying, “Principlists [ultraconservatives] have failed to value their friends. This supplement is a token of appreciation for one of their friends.”
Karimi is known for his verbal attacks on former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, an advocate of a nuclear deal with the United States.
Most maddahs are rich, thanks to their ties with men of power. In return, they protect politicians against rivals, but their main job is organizing and mobilizing mobs to attack opponents of hardliners or protesters perceived as threats to the regime’s core.