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One key is not to under-estimate him:

Wherever he speaks and whomever he addresses, Ahmadinejad is always communicating with a domestic audience of millions of citizens in Iran, as well as with the rest of the Muslim world. He knows his audience well and, while he may convey an air of clumsy haphazardness, his discourse and demeanor express a meticulously crafted, politically astute message of pious populism. He is very much a product of recent Iranian history, and understanding his early years and rise to power provides insight into current circumstances in Iran, his own likely course of action, and the prospects for Iranian political reform.

But Abbas Milani sees some reason for optimism: the kind of bottom-up gradualist evolution that thwarts theocracy with realism and individual free thought, however tenuous, however beleaguered:

An even larger number of those working with the regime, particularly among the thousands of often-Western-educated mid-level managers, are increasingly aware that the status quo is untenable. As the economy continues to falter, and as radicals like Ahmadinejad seek more stringent enforcement of Islamic lawsby, for example, charging more than 160,000 women in the past two months of being insufficiently veiledit is easy to imagine the emergence of a grand coalition, consisting of technocrats within and outside the regime, disgruntled reformists, quietist clerics, members of the Iranian private sector, women demanding equality, students, democratic parties, and labor unions, all willing to compromise in favor of a better society...

A strategy in Iran that forges democracy through a politics from below would have ramifications throughout the Middle East.

The whole essay is worth absorbing. Orin Judd is encouraged by Rafsanjani's response to Ahmadinejad; Jim Hamlen less so. Hat tip: Sign and Sight.

(Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty.)

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