As we watched the demonstrations and sheer bravery of Iranians on the streets over the past few days, I could not help but get a pang of anxiety over a growing propensity to violence within a movement that appears to be devoid of a unifying ideology or shared goals. Without a clear agenda or any instruments so far - for imposing its will, the current movement can easily get trapped into periodic running battles with the existing instruments of power within Iran for an indefinite period.
Iranian history is rife with instances of rioting and chaos followed by extreme dictatorship leading to "stability', which is then bound to cause the cycle to repeat itself. There is a clear need to avoid such repetition, but the question is: how?
In the absence of a more organized movement using general strikes and targeting key sectors such as oil and gas, there is little chance of a swift victory against the regime and its thugs.
Several scenarios can be suggested at this stage. But none of the realistic ones look likely to be resolved in a peaceful manner. If the revolutionary guards do not cave in, there may be civil war with the regular army on the side of the opposition. If the regular army does not side with the people, then the movement has little chance with its current strategy.
If both the armies cave in and stand aside, then the regime is likely to survive under a new, more moderate leader. This will not satisfy a huge portion of the movement, leading to further unrest. Against these we will have the Basiji thugs, with a cat and mouse game continuing for the foreseeable future.
Khamenei has to change tact completely or just be replaced. In either case, the institution that he represents velayat-e faqih - will be permanently weakened. This was expected as he lacks Khomeini's charisma, as would any other person who took up the post. The fact that he has attempted to use force to bolster his own position only proves the rule: revolutionary leaders cannot be replaced, and the revolution dies with them.
With Moussavi's nephew murdered on Ashura, the regime has handed him a very sour and heart wrenching victory. The ball is in Khamenei's court right now. He has very few options left other than to agree to many of the opposition's demands. But this will inevitably disappoint people on all sides, and weaken him further, at least in the short term.
On the other hand, if he makes another wrong move and inflames the situation further (as he seems to be doing with all the unwarranted arrests and death threats), the Assembly of Experts will have no choice but to replace him, most likely leaving the reign of power in the hands of Rafsanjani and Moussavi.
This will not satisfy the people. And it would not satisfy the revolutionary guards or the Basijis, who are likely to resort to terror tactics.
Given the will of the people, an implosion within the regime is the most likely outcome at this stage leading to an outright military dictatorship that will tear up the IRI's Constitution, probably in the name of Khomeini.
The other possible scenario is for a secular-minded senior clergy such as Sanei to step-up and give real direction to the movement to separate religion from the state with minimum harm.
The next dates with destiny: Montazeri's 40th (28 January) and the IRI's 31st anniversary (10-day ceremony starting end January).