But does this also signify an admission of complete failure on the part of those in power? Does it mean that the theocracy faces inevitable, perhaps even immediate, collapse? Is it truly just a matter of time before the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei is finished? Only one thing is certain, namely that the clashes have reached a new dimension that is immensely dangerous for both sides. Never has there been so much popular dissatisfaction with the leadership in Tehran, and never before has such a broad front of people throughout the country fought with such determination against the "dictator" Khamenei and his ally, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In contrast to the protests last summer, the opposition has lost its fear of the regime's thugs. Instead of cowering to avoid government forces during the demonstrations, the rebels are now fighting back, and instead of relenting, they are becoming more radical in their demands. Many are no longer interested in reforming the theocracy, but rather in abolishing it altogether.
And never has the regime struck back with such brutality. At least eight opposition figures were killed within a few hours. In what was essentially a warning to his uncle, Seyed Ali Mousavi, 43, was executed by a targeted gunshot in front of his family's house. Fearing attacks, Karroubi and Mousavi are believed to have fled from Tehran on Wednesday evening, although their families have denied their departure. The regime was sharply condemned by the international community, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticizing its "unacceptable actions" against the protest movement and US President Barack Obama talking of the Iranian government's "iron fist of brutality."
But the government's efforts to deter the protesters are becoming less and less effective. Each new wave of violence coming from the regime only heightens the popularity of the protest movement, which no longer consists solely of younger supporters of the reform movement from the middle and upper classes. Now formerly apolitical shopkeepers and the unemployed are risking direct confrontation with the government's gangs of thugs, and even the elderly are joining the protests.
The rebellion undoubtedly acquired special momentum as a result of the fact that this time Ashura coincided with the traditional observance of seven days of mourning after the death of the opposition's most symbolic religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87. The country had not been gripped by such a strong wave of emotion since the death of revolutionary leader Khomeini in 1989.
In conservative Najafabad, the birthplace of Montazeri, many deeply religious residents, like retiree Reza Nouri, took to the streets, even though authorities had imposed a curfew and the Revolutionary Guard had sealed off the city. Nouri, a farmer, admits that he voted for Ahmadinejad, because he had promised to "distribute the riches from the oil industry on the plates of the poor."
But the old man now concurs with the opinion of the deceased ayatollah, who accused the government of trampling Islamic values by lying to the people and committing crimes against protesters. Like Nouri, many are no longer willing to accept this "betrayal of the revolution" for which they once fought.