After Khamenei’s Speech, the Reckoning

There’s nothing really surprising about Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech today. (Andrew Sullivan’s got the full text, and the Guardian has a write-up.) And appearances to the contrary, there’s nothing really untrue about it, either. Yet.

By that I mean that up to now, this really has been a conflict that has remained within the institutional structure of the state. By drawing the line today — and he really had no choice but to do so — Khamenei has essentially forced Moussavi to decide whether his opposition will remain in the realm of politics, or cross over into the realm of “by other means.” But the moment another march heads out, there really is no turning back, either for the opposition or the regime. And the standoff, which so far has been somewhat static or parallel-tracked, becomes a collision-course game of chicken.

Essentially, the speech serves as a needed clarification for everyone involved of the “legitimate” authority’s definition of: what’s at stake — the regime itself, as evidenced by Khamenei’s very denial that that was the case; of what is negotiable — for now, nothing; and of where the line of tolerable dissent has been drawn — very restrictively.

Should Moussavi cross that line, or should the demonstratorsdo so without him, they enter into open revolt. At that point, the battle widens, with the center of gravity beingno longer only the hearts and minds of the Iranian populace, but those, too,of the Iranian security apparatus.

Everyone will be watching the street for the possibility of violence or mutiny it presents. John McCreary notes the arrest of security personnel as an indicator ofdivided loyalty among the commanders. Any shake-up in the high levels of the DefenseMinistry is another one, with arrests signaling bad news for the opposition, and resignations meaning trouble for the regime.

I’d also be keeping an eye on the opposition movement’s organizational structure — i.e., the Moussavi campaign infrastructure, as well as reformist organization offices — and how well they manage to defend it. The campaign network is the difference at this point between an organized opposition and spontaneous mass unrest. It will probably be the first target of the security forces, and a sign of the regime’s seriousness about using force to shut down the street demonstrations.