Prison or surrender: Mousavi's dilemma in Iran

Should he continue to fight, other analysts say, Mousavi and many of his advisers could be jailed, which would mean the end of their political influence within Iran’s ruling system. The exclusion of such a large group would end Iran’s traditional power-sharing system. Authority would rest in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and his supporters, leaving the parliament as the lone outpost of opposition voices.

On the other hand, accepting defeat might allow Mousavi to create a political party that, although unable to challenge the rule of Khamenei, could give him an opposition role during Ahmadinejad’s second term. Mousavi’s supporters, who are still enraged over post-election violence that they blame on the government, would be extremely disappointed by such a move.

The one possible wild card in Mousavi’s favor seems to be coming from the holy city of Qom, one of the most influential centers of Shiite learning. There, several powerful grand ayatollahs have issued statements calling for a compromise and, most tellingly, have not joined Khamenei in his unequivocal support of Ahmadinejad.