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Mubarak, Ben Ali, Now Time for Sayeed Ali

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A few days have passed since two of Iran's major opposition leaders were either kidnapped or taken hostage by the regime. Mir Hussain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and their wives were taken from their homes without an arrest warrant, and without their children being informed about where their parents were taken. The detentions, which could not have taken place without the specific authorization of Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, are a sign that movements for democracy and political change spreading through much of the Arab world have finally begun to worry Iran's supreme leader.

In the country's recent February 14 protests, Iranians in cities such as Tehran and Shiraz hit the streets with angry chants directed not at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but towards Ayatollah Khamenei. Shouts of "Mobarak, Bin Ali, now time for Sayeed Ali" are not just calls for civil reform or to remove Ahmadinejad from office, but for total regime change. The target of demonstrators' wrath is now Khamenei, and what they want is for him to leave power and put an end to 22 years of totalitarian rule.

Witnessing the current confrontation between the Libyan opposition and a dictator such as Colonel Ghadafi, who has not hesitated to allow mercenaries and militias to brutally shoot at civilians, has alarmed the regime in Iran about the security of its own future. Though Iran and Libya are two very different countries with distinct political ideologies, their leaders are actually quite similar. Both Khamenei and Ghadafi are anti-American and anti-'Western,' and blame the United States and the West for any demonstrations that take place in their countries. Despite the physical distance and differences between Islamic Iran and Socialist Libya, the Iranian regime is well aware that images of empty-handed Libyans resisting machine gunfire in their fight to end Ghadafi's 42-years of rule will undoubtedly influence Iranians.

Khamenei appears to finally recognize that the anger on the ground in Iran is genuine, and the Iranian people are truly unhappy with the regime's economic mismanagement, censorship and dictatorial rule. What would happen if Iranians decide to stand up to the government's loyal militia and plain clothes agents who are paid to protect the regime? Iran's supreme leader knows well that any movement for political change, such as the 'Green' movement, needs organization and leadership to succeed. Physically removing Karroubi, Mousavi and their wives, despite the fact that they were already politically weak, isolated and under house arrest, shows the leader has finally admitted that the opposition movement inside Iran is a real and legitimate one.