In June 2009, a green wave swept over Iran. The green did not represent Islam, but rather Iran's political opposition. The leading reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was victorious, but the regime chose to change the winner and keep Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power. The Iranian people had their say twice, once at the polling stations and once on the streets. They lost both times.
During demonstrations that took place for two weeks following the election, 72 people were killed. The world was amazed by the intensity of the protests. The "Green Movement" turned red, not only with anger, but also with blood. No one knew where things would lead, but there was real hope.
U.S. President Barack Obama either did not understand the significance of the events taking place in Tehran or he did not want to understand them. The Obama administration issued perfunctory criticism of the Iranian regime, but mostly buried its head in the sand.
History will perhaps remember June 2009 as a time when change in Iran was possible but nothing was done.
And indeed, nothing has changed in Iran. Presidents come and presidents go, but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the heir of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remains. Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, in which Obama believes so much, have done nothing but add stamps (from Switzerland, Turkey, Iraq, Russia and Kazakhstan) to the passports of the officials taking part in them. At this point, such talks arouse barely any media interest.
Today, Iranians are again going to the polls. This time, they are doing so as the Middle East burns around them. More than 90,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Syria. Taksim Square in Istanbul is still occupied by protesters. Battles have taken place in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli that have put the country's past civil war to shame. And in Egypt, new signs are emerging of friction between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
No one can guarantee that the Iranian street, which has been indifferent to the election so far, will also be indifferent to the results. The chaos in the region will be almost totally complete if unrest again breaks out in Iran. Iran today is more extreme than it was in 2009. Iran views its nuclear program (including its hidden aspirations for nuclear weapons) not just as an existential need for survival, but also as a point of national pride.
Iran is playing a central role in the conflict in Syria. Iran openly supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, sending it funds and weapons. Iran is also giving troops to Assad, via its proxy Hezbollah. Some have said that Iran is not willing to lose in Syria what it has gained in Iraq, where a significant portion of the Shiite leadership is tied to Iran.
There is no doubt that Iran currently looks very weak at home (due to its economic situation) and much stronger abroad. But that could change. The "Bolsheviks of Islam" cannot continue to rule over a people who used to be an empire that produced great poets like Hafez, Sadi and Omar Khayyam.
Ultimately, the current Iranian regime will only fall when the masses take to the streets. If only Obama had understood this in 2009.