Iran Endgames

Tuesday was another relatively quiet day in Iran, but this is likely a calm before the storm of protests that will return later this week.  A national strike is underway, and another big demonstration is slated for Thursday. How Thursday plays out will have major ramifications going forward.

KhameneiAs I wrote yesterday, this uprising is no longer about a preference for Mousavi over Ahmadinejad-- it's a response to the oppressive and violent nature of the regime that has been unmasked in recent weeks. This violence, along with the blatant electoral fraud, has critically undermined the Islamic Republic. Still, it's hard to imagine a popular overthrow of the government.  Fundamentally, the protesters are outgunned by military, paramilitary (Basij), police, and Revolutionary Guards who, all told, number in the millions.  They have the capability to put down nearly any sort of protest, and after what we've seen this week, one has to imagine they have the will, too.

But that doesn't mean Ayatollah Khamenei is invulnerable. Khamenei's power is legitimized by the clerical establishment in Iran. As the government has cracked down on its people, opinion among leading clerics appears to be solidifying against the Ayatollah. What's more, by getting personally involved in the muck of electoral politics, Khamenei has sullied himself among the clerics. On Thursday, the shock troops will have little choice but to crack down ever harder, but doing so will push even more clerics into the anti-Khamenei camp.

This will likely be a gradual revolution, not unlike 1979, playing out over weeks and months, through cycles of protest, violence, and mourning.  But what we will be left with is Khamenei, delegitimized and short of supporters, and the Islamic Republic itself, delegitimized and in need of serious reform.  This will create an opportunity for Rafsanjani and his fellow reformist clerics to step in and create a government that takes seriously the human and civil rights of its people. 

There will be bloodshed, and it will take time, but with Iran's government and hardline leaders so critically delegitimized, it's hard to imagine an endgame wherein Khamenei and his Basij maintain their cruel power.