It is not easy to get an accurate picture of what’s happening in Iran today, but reports are trickling out through traditional media and on Twitter. It seems that police have put opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest. Apparently “thousands” are protesting in Tehran and other major cities. Reuters reports that Iranian forces have fired tear gas at protesters, and Twitter is abuzz with news of protesters showing up at hospitals with blunt-trauma injuries. Most significantly, the protest crowds are apparently swelling as darkness falls in Iran. This was, not to get too far ahead of things, the pattern in the protests in Egypt.
It’s worth remembering that most protests come and go, and it’s the extremely rare historical moment that turns demonstration into revolution. But what could make revolution a possibility in Iran is if the regime were to wildly overreact in its crackdown. Eliciting such overreaction is often the tactical goal of the revolutionary. Fence-sitters are not eager to give up a modicum of stability and a barely tolerable existence; but when there’s a bloodbath, they too take to the streets in disgust. Given the regional political temperature, the Iranian regime’s historical inclination to absolute security, and the new suspicion that Washington is content to be a witness to atrocity, there could be a perfect paranoid storm brewing in the minds of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Amadinejad.