This is not editorial hyperbole; as of last Sunday the city of Tehran was quite literally on fire. One only has to look at the pictures cropping up across the internet depicting opposition protests in conjunction with the shiite holy day of Ashura to realize the movement has reached a new phase. But the articles accompanying them, (esp this one at Time)  make it very clear: Sunday was what can only be described as a perfect storm of opposition.

First and foremost, Monday was appropriately enough the Day of Ashura, the single most important day on the Shiite calender which, as the link to Wikipedia I provided above describes, commemorates the day Shiite Imam Hussein was killed by what they consider to have been a corrupt Caliph. Given the modern context this alone would be appropriate enough, but today also marks the 7th day of mourning for opposition leader Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, one of the founding fathers of the original Islamic revolution who fell out of favor with the government and later became the moral voice of the opposition following the June uprising. Combining these two factors makes the government’s heavy handed response to the protests at best awkward, at worst outrageous to common Iranians. In the past even the Shah  forbade executions during Ashura, and in conjunction with the funeral of  ANY Grand Ayatollah is nigh-unthinkable. For a government that relies so heavily on religious propaganda to break such a taboo is another fatal mistake that underlies the extent to which they underestimate their own people.

Further, analysts from across the journalistic spectrum, from the Daily Beast to the Times of London to Der Spiegel to the Wall Street Journal and many, many others all seem to be asking the same question: could this be it? While the media has been both largely united and incorrect in the past (cough), given the present environment and circumstances the general agreement among the many voices of opinion cannot be discounted out of hand.

What is clear is that while no one can tell whether or when the Islamic Republic might fall, it cannot long survive crushed between the growing confidence of its own people to demand their rights, and the growing consensus of the international community to tighten the economic screws. And thus the regime seems to be realizing its position is in mortal peril and has begun taking an ever lower road, with opposition leaders being rounded up en masse. Meanwhile the opposition too is digging in, with numerous sources quoting Mr. Mousavi as being willing to die a martyr for the cause in the wake of the apparently targeted murder of his nephew. Whether a harder line in the mold of the Chinese crackdown on Tienanmen Square will be effective in Iran is anyone’s guess, but I seem to recall the heavy handed approach not working so well for the Shah. Besides the fact that while a hard crackdown might have been successful in suffocating the opposition in its crib had it been pursued shortly after the initial mass protests in June, the Ashura Uprising may be a signal that public opposition may have reached critical mass and may now be beyond the regime’s ability to stem. Where this goes is anyone’s guess, but I continue to ask everyone reading to hope and/or pray for the people of Iran, and their freedom.

-We’re All In This Together