Fareed Zakaria makes a good point about Mir Hossein Mousavi's relationship to the Iranian protests in a piece in the upcoming issue of Newsweek--namely that a victory for Mousavi would mean something far different now, after the protests and turmoil and bloodshed, than it would have on June 12:

Discussing the events taking place in Iran, [President Obama] said that there was no important difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, since they would both defend the Islamic Republic's key foreign-policy choices, from its nuclear ambitions to its support for organizations like Hamas and Hizbullah. That viewpoint has actually been voiced by some in the neoconservative camp who have openly preferred Ahmadinejad: a more threatening foe would more clearly highlight the dangers of the regime to the rest of the world. But even if this were true before the election, it is no longer true. Mousavi has become a symbol of change, anti-Ahmadinejad sentiment and even anti-regime aspirations. He is clearly aware of this and is embracing the support. A victory for him would mean a different Iran.

Zakaria is right: the turmoil in Iran has led the country into a liminal process of unimaginably greater scale than the election alone presented. Elections are supposed to be breaking points, national moments of catharsis and reinvention, but this one didn't offer that, since it was widely viewd as rigged--so the Iranian people made one themselves, creating an entirely different political moment, one with entirely different meanings attached to it.

Mousavi, as Zakaria says, has now become a symbol of more drastic change than before--and the upheaval has changed his own political meaning. American experts on Iran have noted repeatedly in the past weeks that Mousavi is a product of the system. He rose to power in the context of the Islamic regime, he had offered more conservative views in the past, and it was dubious as to what change his election would actually bring about. He didn't really want to change things; he was too much a part of them.

But the political momentum of the protests has overtaken Mousavi's own specific politics, and the turmoil is about something far more secular and revolutionary than what Mousavi himself originally stood for, some, like Zakaria, are saying. Mousavi now exist in a new environment, and, as literary theorists have argued, changes in context bring changes in meaning. Everything he does and says is now viewed by the American audience, at least, in a context of revolution.

As U.S. analysts have noted, Mousavi must walk a very fine line with his public statements, seeking to sustain the protest movement peacefully and not go too far.

Zakaria says the turmoil has thrown into question the Islamic regime's basic, religious mandate for rule. Experts have predicted that such a development could cause an intense crackdown by the Revolutionary Guard on the protesters, but also that elements in the regime (such as the Guard) would not back away from supporting Ahmadinejad unless there was no other option for them--in other words, if their hold on power was really threatened.

Among experts, consensus on Mousavi is that he never wanted to throw the Islamic regime's basic mandate into question; now, according to Zakaria, he's the symbol of that questioning, and he's navigating that new identity on a global stage.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.