Like many of you, I have been closely following the events in Iran since the June 12th election for president. According to all credible reports, the announced election results could not possibly be accurate, with incumbent President Ahmadinejad winning by an impossible margin, especially considering that not all the votes, or perhaps even most of the ballots, had been counted when Ahmadinejad’s victory was announced.

In the streets of Tehran, the capital, and in other Iranian cities, large crowds have been protesting the absurd results, so far with a minimum of violence, though with a great deal of passion and energy. Iranians know how to take to the streets and demonstrate—they’ve been doing it for years—especially students. But unlike previous student protests, bloodily crushed by the Republican Guard and state militias, this crisis features adults, especially women, and clerics.

The main loser in the election and galvanizer of anti-establishment sentiment, is Mir Hossein Mousavi, former Prime Minister, historically conservative, who has emerged as a kind of George McGovern figure to the youth vote. Sitting at the top of the ruling heap is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, who nonetheless can be replaced by the Assembly of Experts. The most influential member of the group is Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of the country and an ayatollah himself, who is opposed to President Ahmandinejad.

This rich and diverse cast makes for an interesting stew of events. The demonstrators are not protesting against articles of faith; they shout “God is Great,” from the roof tops as a younger generation did in the primary revolution of the Islamic Republic in 1979. They are protesting an obvious case of fraud in the voting, and the governance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, particularly his abrasive style toward the West and his poor handling of the economy.

Ahmadinejad infuriates his foes with his smiling dismissal of their concerns, especially the educated classes, who do not back him and suffer much from his policies, replacing thousands of competent professors with party hacks, for one thing. Iranians value their voting rights even though their choice of candidates is limited by the reigning mullahs. So when an election goes awry as badly as this one has, the people are up in arms.

The underlying energy of the demonstrations comes from the election results, dissatisfaction of the sitting president, who is charged with running day-to-day affairs of the state, Iran’s increasing isolation in the world as a result of his policies, and class/generation differences. An explosive mix.

Especially, I think, this is a cultural and generational clash. The students and upper classes see themselves as suffering financially and being marginalized by their bumpkin president and his lumpenproletariat adherents. The upper classes, the intelligentsia, are historically the essential ingredients of revolution, the movers and shakers, especially in the West. They know how to lead, and they cannot be ignored.

They want a more open and freer society, which they had enjoyed previously under more moderate leadership, such as that of Rafsanjani. They do not challenge the system per se, but as the mullahs understand, they represent a more tolerant, more secular state, which the grey beards cannot permit. But since the intelligentsia cannot be ignored, the mullahs have a real problem on their hands.

In the short run, the big demonstrations will peter out in a week or so as people get back to work, and as the regime arrests more of them and slowly chokes off their means of demonstrating and communicating with the outside world. However, a partial recount of the vote, as promised by Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, will not mollify them, either. In the long run, it is difficult to see how newly elected President Ahmadinejad can run the country smoothly to the end of his term.

The reigning mullahs have already miscalculated badly in falsely reporting the election results. They have smartly abstained from massive lethal force to date, but that is precisely the instrument of state they must rely on to stop the demonstrations cold unless they try to starve the population or something like that. If they do bring tanks into the streets and hundreds of people are killed, then everyone with an ax to grind against Iran will up and hollar for their heads.

The government has been preoccupied with foreign affairs, particularly arming and supporting their proxies in Lebanon, Gaza and Syria, in the war against Israel. They have been busy with playing the Great Game. Now they must look inward and attend to their own people. You can almost hear them sigh. Iranians are a sensitive, intelligent people, numbering many poets and artists among them. They know how to suffer; they suffered terribly during the long war with Iraq.

During that war, in which Saddam Hussein used poison gas and chemical weapons against waves of poorly armed infantrymen, including large numbers of children, they died by the thousands in frontal attacks. Finally, it was those attacks, with outside help from the United States, that forced Iran to accept a standoff with Iraq. But the war also bled Iraq, making its adventure in Iran a costly one. Many thousands of Iranian veterans of that war still linger in special hospitals designed to treat chemical wounds.

What the mullahs do not want, and ultimately do not have the stomach for, is using similar evil measures against their own youths in their own streets. There is a limit to the suffering they will inflict. Change will come to Iran whatever happens in the next few days. Escalating the violence dramatically will crack the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even if few people intended for that to happen.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.