Has the Iranian regime lost its legitimacy with the people?

Amir Taheri writes that a turning point has been reached with the Iranian crisis, one that has large implications for the Guardian Council and its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.  With his declaration that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory was “divine” and a “historic victory from Islam,” Khamenei’s status gave that more than just a political endorsement, Taheri explains, and his reversal undermines his claim to power:

On Saturday, Khamenei declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election to be “an historic triumph for Islam” and invited Iranians to celebrate. Just 48 hours later, the same Khamenei was promising a recount and “other measures” to correct “errors that might have occurred” in the election. …

In the Khomeinist system, Khamenei is supposed to represent divine power on earth, via the “Hidden Imam.” He is supposed to be the leader of all the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, with the power to suspend the rules of Islam itself, if and when he so wishes.

His word is supposed to be final on all matters; when he speaks, Allah has spoken. Now he looks like just another politician engaged in a bitter power struggle for the control of the country. …

However the current struggle turns out, the regime has lost a good part of its legitimacy. It is also made clear that peaceful evolution within the regime is not possible. This makes the “regime change” option attractive for the first time since the mid-1990s.

The practical implications of the presumed infallibility of Khamenei are obvious.  He cannot abide a change in the election result that negates his previous statements about the divine nature of Ahmadinejad’s re-election.  The holy imprimatur would reveal him to be a fraud, or more to the point, the fraud of a divinely-appointed Supreme Leader with absolute power.  That undermines the entire basis of the Guardian Council and Khamenei’s office, and would indeed be revolutionary.  For if the Supreme Leader doesn’t get his direction from God, then why should people abide his dictatorship?

That makes it difficult to throw Ahmadinejad under the bus, no matter how tough the protests get.  Khamenei has painted himself into a corner, and his only option is to force Ahmadinejad onto Iranians for another term.  However, that undermines his credibility in another way.  Would God have told Khamenei to hold an election, just to throw it?

Taheri points out that the Revolutionary Guard has reason to be angry as well.  One of the men who lost the election was their former commander of 16 years, Mohsen Rezai Mir-Qaed, who wound up far behind in the polling.  If the election was legitimate, the Revolutionary Guard might be unhappy with the results but wouldn’t have a reason to complain about Khamenei and the Guardian Council.  If the election was rigged, as it obviously was, the main strut for the Guardian Council’s power will ask why Khamenei favored Ahmadinejad over their former general, and that could easily produce disaffection between the regime and its armed guards.

At the very least, the bumbling of Khamenei has destroyed the presumption of infallibility and divine imprimatur.  That is a healthy step in the right direction.