The political turmoil in Iran has been referred to casually by American observers as a revolution, and there's a hope among some that it will result in dramatic regime change in Iran. But experts say it's unlikely that the demonstrations will result in an overthrow of Ayatollah Khamenei's regime.
"The key question [of whether the regime could collapse] is whether the security forces (and, especially the provincial IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] units) would turn on the government and join the protesters," Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute told me in an email Monday night. "We have not yet seen any evidence of this."
That was Monday, but with official news reports still coming out of Iran after a ban on foreign journalists covering "unauthorized" demonstrations in person, and with information still spreading on Twitter, there are reports that the Guard--which, it's assumed, was complicit in the Ahmadinejad "victory"--is still actively working against the protestors' aims, with no evidence of a change in allegiance.
It's possible guardsmen could side against Ahmadinejad, but not against Khamenei, says Michael Connell of CNA Strategic Studies.
"While it is possible that the IRGC might abandon Ahmadinejad if they feel that he has become a political liability, it is highly unlikely that they will do the same with Khamenei, whose office...is considered sacrosanct," Connell tells me.
"The only way that would happen would be if there was a coup within the Guard Corps--and I don't see any evidence of that happening," Connell said.
"It'd be kind of like the SS turning on Hitler," Connell said.
The likelihood of Mousavi winning the Guard over is probably dim, as, according to Connell, Mousavi doesn't seem particularly close with the Guard Corps leaders.
It's possible some of the top guardsmen sympathize with Mousavi from his past as Iran's prime minister, according to Alireza Nader of the Rand Corporation--but their interests and Mousavi's might not align.
Some active and retired Guard members financially benefit from Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in the form of no-bid contracts for contruction and other businesses, Nader said.
The Guard's potential opportunism is discussed here by Abbas Milani who, predicts that, if it is used heavily in cracking down on the protests, it will demand more power when the dust settles.
And then there's the question of whether Mousavi would want a full-on revolution against the current regime. Experts say he doesn't.
"Mousavi...is part of the system," Nader said. "He's a revolutionary [in the 1979 sense], and this is why he was allowed to run in the first place."
It's also worth noting that Khamenei's regime itself was born of revolution: it knows how these things work, and that knowledge might make it uniquely equipped to deal with the present turmoil.
"The regime knows why its revolution succeeded; it will try not to repeat the mistakes of the Shah," AEI's Rubin points out.
On top of that, there's a big question as to the Iranians' desire and willingness to see another revolution. Revolutions that see complete regime change are rare--and often involve lots of bloodshed--and Iran had one recently, in the scheme of things, in 1979.
Whether they'll see another one, at this point, looks dubious.