Roger Cohen's article in the New York Times is truly amazing, particularly the opening set piece:
The Iranian police commander, in green uniform, walked up Komak Hospital Alley with arms raised and his small unit at his side. “I swear to God,” he shouted at the protesters facing him, “I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people. Please go home.”
A man at my side threw a rock at him. The commander, unflinching, continued to plead. There were chants of “Join us! Join us!” The unit retreated toward Revolution Street, where vast crowds eddied back and forth confronted by baton-wielding Basij militia and black-clad riot police officers on motorbikes.
Please read the rest. It's an incredible piece, and Cohen is really making a name for himself in all of this, particularly because he is one of the few international journalists left in Tehran, and perhaps the only American one, if not one of few. Cohen says that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has lost his mojo:
Khamenei has taken a radical risk. He has factionalized himself, so losing the arbiter’s lofty garb, by aligning himself with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against both Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution.
He has taunted millions of Iranians by praising their unprecedented participation in an election many now view as a ballot-box putsch. He has ridiculed the notion that an official inquiry into the vote might yield a different result. He has tried pathos and he has tried pounding his lectern. In short, he has lost his aura.
The taboo-breaking response was unequivocal. It’s funny how people’s obsessions come back to bite them. I’ve been hearing about Khamenei’s fear of “velvet revolutions” for months now. There was nothing velvet about Saturday’s clashes. In fact, the initial quest to have Moussavi’s votes properly counted and Ahmadinejad unseated has shifted to a broader confrontation with the regime itself.
Precisely. I've noticed the moving of Ahmadinejad to the side for days now. This has become about toppling the regime now. Yes, the stolen election was the impetus, and amid new statistical evidence pointing in that direction (it's pretty neat, check that out), the protestors appear to be correct. But that just set off the lid of a boiling stew from this young, educated, wired population yearning for more legitimacy, more democracy, more self-determination.
The regime is in a tough spot. To hundreds of thousands if not millions in the streets they lack legitimacy. The brutality of the Basiji eats away at that both domestically and internationally. They're trying to balance themselves on a wire, not killing multitudes en masse but trying just to crack down enough to hopefully put this thing behind them. But I don't see that happening now. Mousavi has basically openly defied the regime, and so it must end with either him or Khamenei out of the way. I don't see a third option. In the end, if those with the guns move toward the demonstrators, we'll have a full-fledged revolution.