While it’s looking increasingly likely that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may lose the presidency, it doesn’t look as if he will do so quietly:
In Tehran and many other cities, Ahmadinejad does not boast the same levels of support as Mousavi, but twice since the crisis began he has succeeded in gathering tens of thousands of supporters into impressive victory rallies, and his tone is far from penitent. The president provoked the ire of Mousavi’s supporters when he referred to them as “chaff” and “unimportant”, and when he compared their emotions to the pique of a football supporter whose team has lost. On June 15 he was in Moscow, where he pronounced learnedly on the economic and political woes of the United States, without deigning to mention his own.
The possibility of a major confrontation – with or without the participation of the police, who have so far behaved with relative restraint – cannot be discounted. Although Ahmadinejad’s support base is smaller than Mousavi’s, his followers are more fanatical and better armed. On June 14, seven Mousavi supporters were killed during a confrontation with basijis who were firing from their barracks in south Tehran, and the speaker of parliament, no supporter of Mousavi, has demanded an inquiry into brutal raids that were staged on a dormitory at Tehran University and a residential block of flats. It is hard to say whether levels of violence are rising or not, since most of it goes unreported, particularly when it happens in provincial towns, but the confidence of Mousavi’s supporters seems not to have been dented by the arrest of several leading reformists. Rather, it has been bolstered by the success of their monster rallies and the obvious reluctance of the authorities to use overwhelming and lethal force against them.
For those watching around the world, with fascination and horror, the drama is in the streets, but the resolution, if there is one, lies in the corridors of power. In the past, Khamenei has trodden a fine line between the demands of a young population and the need, as he sees it, to defend the core values of the Islamic Republic. Now, as never before, the two are in direct confrontation.
But it’s also looking increasingly likely that Ahmadinejad may end up bearing the brunt of the Iranian people’s fury:
[B]oth sides’ legitimacy depends upon not being the aggressor in the event of violence. That’s why, notwithstanding the opposition’s dramatic demonstrations and the regime’s brutal but relatively limited repressive measures, both sides have essentially been playing for time. It’s as if two armies were maneuvering in close proximity, knowing that the first one to open fire loses.
It seems obvious that Khamenei and Moussavi realize this, and I’ve read reports (Le Monde here) that suggest some of the Revolutionary Guard commanders realize it also. Judging by his rhetoric, though, I’m not convinced that Ahmadinejad realizes it.
My sense is that the only non-violent way out of this impasse that restores the regime’s legitimacy (i.e., its stable grip on power) while allowing the opposition to save face is to find a scapegoat. Ahmadinejad would make a useful one, with a plausible scenario then being an interim president followed by a new election. Alternatively, some subordinate to Ahmadinejad could take the fall, with the opposition placated by the kind of institutional accommodation I mentioned yesterday.
UPDATE: Here’s a really good video from today’s massive, 500,000-person march:
UPDATE II: And now the demonstrators are being threatened with death:
Reuters reported that Mohammadreza Habibi, the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be executed under Islamic law.
“We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution,” Mr. Habibi said, according to the Fars news agency. It was not clear if his warning applied only to Isfahan, where there have been violent clashes, or the country as a whole, Reuters said.
UPDATE III: More pics, from HuffPo:
UPDATE IV: Even more pics, from Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish: