The protests over a badly-rigged presidential election in Iran eventually faded from the headlines around the world, but not from the intentions of Iranian reformers.  They lost one of their religious leaders, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, this weekend, and they have used the funeral for a rally against the mullahcracy in Tehran.  Back again are the familiar calls of “Marg bar dicktator!”, and the AP reports that the streets are filled in Qom, the epicenter of Shi’ite theocracy:

Tens of thousands of Iranian mourners turned the funeral procession of the country’s most senior dissident cleric into an anti-government protest Monday, chanting “death to the dictator” and slogans in support of the opposition amid heavy security.

Giant crowds filled major streets, beating their chests in mourning, waving banners in the green colors of the opposition and shouting denunciations of Iran’s rulers as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri’s body was carried to a shrine in Iran’s holy city of Qom.

Some mourners clashed briefly with security forces, throwing stones — and hard-line pro-government militiamen charged some protesters until police held them back, opposition Web sites said. The militiamen tore down mourning banners and ripped to pieces posters of Montazeri near his home, the Hammihan Web site reported. Iranian authorities have barred foreign media from covering the rites. …

Mourners shouted “Death to the Dictator” and other slogans in displays of anger against Iran’s ruling establishment during the procession in Qom, a city of shrines and clerical seminaries about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Tehran, witnesses said. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest.

Marchers held aloft black-rimmed portraits of Montazeri and green banners and wrist bands in a powerful show of support for the Green Movement of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who attended the funeral along with another prominent protest leader, Mahdi Karroubi.

The death of Montazeri put Ali Khameini in a tough spot.  Montazeri was one of the key figures of the 1979 revolution, which meant that a failure to honor him at his death would be an unconscionable snub for a government that clings to 1979 for its legitimacy.  But the mullahs also knew that the out-of-favor cleric would inspire rebellion even after his death, especially so close to the summer of unrest throughout the nation.  They had to allow his funeral to proceed and  hope that their security forces would keep things quiet, and they barred the foreign press from covering it if it failed.

So far, that strategy also seems to have failed.  Word has gotten out of the massive unrest in Qom, which is an acute embarrassment to the theocrats in Tehran.  If they have lost the people of Qom, it calls into question how much legitimacy they actually enjoy in Iran, and how much they will have to use a police-state security apparatus to maintain power.

History teaches that police states always fail, and it doesn’t take much in the end to topple them.  Sometimes it’s just the destruction of a wall that provides the final catalyst.  A funeral may do the same thing, but the people of Iran will have to keep up the pressure in order to make it happen.