Who can tell from a distance just what is going on in a country as large,isolated and opaque as Iran; a society in which a crust of stability seems to cover a rumbling boil of hopes and discontentment.
Thirty years ago resentment at the Shah's repressive regime brought to power a theocratic Shia Islamic state which preached fear and hatred of America and the "unclean" western world. A government increasingly unpopular with both educated urban youth who resented the repression and stupidity of religious rule and many of the rural poor who saw the government as corrupt and ineffective.
A Times editorial makes a strong case that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has turned a state dominated by a religious elite with an illusion of democracy,into a military dictatorship in which clerics play a more symbolic role.
"In Mr. Ahmadinejad, the public saw a man who repudiated the profligacy of the clerical class, a man who was ascetic, humble and devout. And he capitalized on that image to consolidate power and to promote his brothers in arms. Fourteen of the 21 cabinet ministers he has appointed are former members of the guards or its associated paramilitary, the Basij. Several, including Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, are veterans of notorious units thought to have supported terrorist operations in the 1980s.
This creeping militarization has not been restricted to the central government: provincial governors, press commissars, film directors, intelligence officers and business leaders are increasingly former members of the guard. The elite force controls much of the economy either directly — the Basij has rights to oil extraction — or through proxy companies like Khatam al Anbiya, which dominates construction throughout Iran."
Ahmadinejad's intimidating confidence and threats support the view that the council of clerics who control Iranian elections are no longer really in charge as does the "in your face openness" of the vote rigging. "The unusually speedy certification of the election and Ayatollah Khamenei’s quick blessing — “a divine miracle” — only served to underscore an obvious sham."
The vast crowds of people demonsrating against the election may have walked into a trap as the regime uses the opportunity to arrest and silence it's organisers often using twitter and Facebook to track them down. But it's not over yet. The number of demontrators and their courage reveal a fury that will be hard to stop forever. Unfortunately the stage is set for explosive violence.