The authorities in Iran seem to have succeeded in suppressing popular protests for the moment. More generally, it seems clear that “people power” has its limits, summarised by the aphorism that a successful revolution consists of kicking in an open door. That is, if a state is divided, unsure of itself and illegitimate even in its own eyes, a manifestation of mass opposition will be enough to bring it down. But a coherent ruling group, confident of its own rightness and willing to use force against its opponents, can retain power even in the face of a strongly mobilised majority of the public. It remains to be seen which of these analyses applies in Iran.
A couple of points of clarification. First, although it seems pretty clear that the vote was rigged, that doesn’t imply that the Opposition won. In this context, Moussavi is right to call for annulment and fresh elections, not for himself to be declared the winner.
Second, it is possible for a majority in the metropolis to override the wishes of the country as a whole (see Thailand). The fact that Khatami won two elections in the face of opposition from the dominant clerics suggests to me that this is probably not the case here, but again, the main point is that, with a rigged election you can’t tell.
Finally, while this is a serious business, it’s amusing to see that it has allowed David Burchell to revert to his accustomed position as a reflexive critic of US foreign policy.