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Worldview: Obama struggles for coherency while Iranian demonstrators clearly want change.
The president made it clear before he took office that he wanted to open a dialogue with Iran and end the 30-year standoff with the Islamic Republic. Iranian officials had been indicating for the past few years that they were ready to talk. Now, in view of the current turmoil in that country, Obama seems to be uncertain how or even whether he can grasp the Iranian nettle.
Which Iranians should America talk to? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's “Supreme Leader” and officially the ultimate arbiter in the land, seems to be losing his grip on events. Iranian demonstrators openly challenge his authority.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has just taken office for a second term after an election that appears to have been rigged, has lost credibility with millions of Iranians who believe their votes were stolen. And his policies and actions are now being questioned by some of his own hard-line backers.
Above all, a significant minority of the population seem to have lost their fear of a repressive government. Night, after night thousands shout from their rooftoops “God is Great” (a rallying cry of the revolution that toppled Iran's previous regime in 1979) and “Death to the Dictator” (by which they mean Ayatollah Khamenei). Brutal repression by thuggish government militias has reduced the size of daytime demonstrations on the streets, but has not stopped them.
The surprising thing about this anti-government movement is how long it has gone on. The big student riots of 1999 were suppressed by the government after several days. But the demonstrators behind this new movement — young people, women, middle class professionals, even clergymen – keep coming back for more. The outside world sees very little of this, except in the furtive cellphone videos taken by the demonstrator themselves.
These new “citizen journalists” hide their cellphones up their sleeves or in small containers. They have developed their own journalistic code and often begin a video with a closeup of a street sign and the front page of a local newspaper to authenticate when and where the video was shot. They frequently change their email addresses and use other techniques to avoid being tracked down by the authorities.