Looking to the Middle East at the moment, it seems as if the region is drawing breath. The revolution on the streets of Iran seems to have run its course, for the moment, with the Guardian Council certifying the results of the country's stolen election.
American troops are starting their pull out of Iraq after years mired in failure, followed by dogged stabilisation. The news stories are all about endings. Truth is, nothing is resolved in either country; and where unresolved questions of power remain there remains the potential for serious violence. Nothing is over yet.
In Iran, news has slowed to a trickle after the crackdown by police and government militia. At the same time the challenge to the establishment has switched from the streets of Tehran to the backrooms of Qom, the Shia holy city. It's there that the clerics are battling for the future of Iran, as Iranian-American author Reza Aslan made clear on Q+A on Sunday.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is the head of the Assembly of Experts, the body that elects Iran's Supreme Leader. Unlike the cardinals who in Catholic tradition elect each new pope, the Assembly of Experts also has the power to remove Supreme Leaders, and Rafsanjani is reportedly working behind the scenes to depose Ayatollah Khamenei.
The website Tehran Bureau.com has been providing great coverage of the uprising, and reports that the conservative clerics are split. Aslan spoke of the same "fissures", claiming that reform will come to the Islamic republic on way or another. Even the Iranian revolution of 1979 played out over months, with ebbs and flows. So a week's calm now is no indicator of a final outcome.
What seems to be agreed is that Khamenei is compromised. He ratified the election before the Guardian Council, Iran's election watchdog, and warned protesters off the street. In doing so he sided with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and made himself a mere partisan player, rather than the divinely-inspired leader.
Next door in Iraq, US troops are handing over control of Iraqi cities to local forces. Even President Obama is predicting "difficult days" ahead. The Iraqi security forces are being asked to step up and maintain order. They've been asked to do that before, but have hardly made a success of that mission. Tom Ricks, one of the best Iraq watchers in the US media, spells it out succinctly.
The US surge has succeeded tactically, in that settled things down and created time for political reform. But it's failed strategically because that reform has never come. Iranian politicians are as divided as ever over how to divide oil revenues, how to share power and what kind of political structure to build.
In both countries these are the band-aid weeks. But the band-aids have to come off eventually and the old wounds will be exposed once more. In both countries that could mean bloodshed. In Iran, however, there is hope yet that whatever comes next, the complaints of the people may still be heard.
The tweets coming out of Iran reported that, after the Guardian Council confirmed the decidedly dodgy election results, the cries of Allah O Akbar (God is Great) were louder than ever as people cried from their rooftops, safe (or relatively safe) under the cover of darkness. While those voices remain, there is hope for change. The question then becomes, what kind of change it will be.Current affairs and culture website Pundit