Leadership in Peril: Iranians Won't Wait Out Recount

Do the clerics really think that the Iranian public will sit back and quietly wait out the next 9 days as they deliberate on the recount?

Maybe the clerics should look out their windows to the streets below.

Either the clerics are so out of touch with what is happening in the hearts and minds of most Iranians (including the many who are too apprehensive to risk participating in the demonstrations), or they have situated themselves in such a tight spot that they're trying to buy time to repair the gaping hole in their judgment.

Make no mistake, the massive demonstrations in Iran, both in the run up to election day and since, have been simmering for years and are founded in one thing more than any other: significant, across-the-board dissatisfaction with a system of government that has shown little regard for the people of Iran.

The demonstrators are ostensibly fighting for Mousavi, but what's essentially happening is a continuation of what happened in the days ahead of the election when the Iranian public was allowed the opportunity to pour into the streets in a cathartic mass movement for change. The people were suddenly freed from years of a maddening grip of abeyance and it won't be so easy to force them back into their shells.

The government was wary of the repercussions of allowing mass rallies. They announced on the Wednesday before the Friday election that no more mass rallies would be allowed without a permit. Thursday was supposed to be quiet -- but there were scattered rallies even then.

There was never any doubt that the election results would lead to mass demonstrations -- the losing side was not going to take well to the loss of an election that had reached unprecedented heights of public interest and passion.

Now that protesters have been killed (reports indicate there may be at least 12 deaths nationwide), there is no question that the streets will continue filling up with so many Iranians who have so little to lose in this battle. Unemployment is at troubling heights, so is inflation and the cost of day-to-day living. Everyday, people are harassed for ridiculous things like the clothes they are wearing, the people they are hanging out with, and the materials they are reading and listening to.

No jobs, no prospects, no assets, no liberties -- a lot of Iranians have nothing left to give and everything to gain from protesting. If little else, it no doubt feels incredibly satisfying to be able to publicly display discontent and opposition against a government that for many has made a prison of their lives.

It is no wonder many of them say they are willing to risk all just to protest.

Behind the scenes, the Islamic Republic's recent years of growing factionalism have come to a head. The conservative divide that resulted in the so-called Reformist movement of the late 1990's has further splintered into a third category of "moderate principlists" (as opposed to the "hardline principlists" who are more conservative about their adherence to the principles of the Islamic Republic), led by such powerful men as former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani who is reported to have condemned an attack on Tehran University dorms.

Rafsanjani's friction with Ahmadinejad was center stage exactly four years ago when he lost to Ahmadinejad in the second round of the presidential election. This year, he again took a public stance against Ahmadinejad. In the week before election day, Rafsanjani asked to debate Ahmadinejad on television -- even though he wasn't even a presidential candidate. He wrote an open letter to the Supreme Leader urging a fair election and safeguarding of the "sacred Islamic system". In one last attempt, Rafsanjani held a 3-hour meeting with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on the day before the election.

Considering that Rafsanjani is head of the Assembly of Experts -- the body which is designated with the power to elect and remove the Supreme Leader -- there is no doubt that the top leadership is at risk like never before. Even the 87 year old Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, formerly Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni's top choice as successor to the Supreme Leadership before they had a falling out in 1989 - has reappeared on the public stage after years of relative obscurity, stating the election results cannot be believed.

No wonder the government is trying to quell the so-far steady outpouring of demonstrators.

It doesn't help that Mousavi is no longer asking demonstrators to stay at home: his official website today announced that "silent" (more banners, less chanters) rallies would be held on Thursday in honor of the killed protesters, which he called shahid's (martyrs), and their families. There is also talk of Friday prayer rallies.

Thanks to these demonstrations, Mousavi is now firmly coming into his own as the leader of the opposition, and unless Supreme Leader Khamenei acts fast, Ahmadinejad may not be the only one who has to step aside.