“The current regime has broken the social bonds that tie it to the public and thus is eventually due to fall,” Bill Beeman, a Persian-speaking professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota and former president of the Middle East section of the American Anthropological Assn., told me recently. “Iran is a hierarchical society. Folks in the superior position must care for those in the inferior position or they will be toppled. The folks in the lower position will cease to support them — in fact will work to undermine them. ”

There is a Persian concept that translates as the “party of the wind.” It refers to the tendency of Iranians to bend politically whichever way the ideological winds blow. The oversubscribed classes of civil servants are some of the Islamic Republic’s most invested supporters, but they are not necessarily true believers. Their loyalty is likely to last only as long as the monthly checks and the subsidized cars, plasma-screen televisions and pilgrimages to Damascus and Mecca. One of the reasons that Iran’s 1979 revolution was relatively bloodless was the smooth, almost instant shift in the loyalties of thousands of bureaucrats and military men from Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to the opposition…

“What grabbed me was the look in the eyes of the soldiers standing in the streets,” one witness told me on the phone from Tehran. “You could easily notice grief, guilt and fear in most of them.”