Growing desperation

As in the past, conservatives have blamed foreign powers for stirring up the protests. Yet with the clashes persisting despite Iran’s isolation from the outside world, this charge is carrying ever less weight with the people. On the contrary, the government’s tactics, along with Mr Khamenei’s silence and the increasingly ungloved intervention of the Revolutionary Guards, the elite military corps that commands the plain-clothes baseej militia used for crowd control, may reflect a growing sense of desperation.

Signs of the regime’s fading legitimacy are numerous. In December, for instance, the head of Iran’s central bank issued a stern warning that from January 8th it would no longer accept bank notes defaced by extra words. In practice, this would mean taking millions of notes out of circulation, following a quiet campaign by oppositionists to mark them with anti-regime slogans.

More embarrassing still for a regime that describes itself as Islamic is the government’s treatment of dissident clerics, including some prominent ayatollahs. The most senior was Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri, a confidant of the Islamic Republic’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with whom he fell out of favour shortly before the old man’s death in 1989. Placed under house arrest for a decade, Mr Montazeri continued to criticise the government, siding openly with the reformists after the tainted June elections.

Despite his isolation, Mr Monta... >>>

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