JUST after Iran's rigged elections last week, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets, it looked as if a new revolution was in the offing. Five days later, the uprising is little more than a symbolic protest, crushed by the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Meanwhile, the real revolution has gone unnoticed: the guard has effected a silent coup d'état.
The seeds of this coup were planted four years ago with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And while he has since disappointed his public, failing to deliver on promised economic and political reforms, his allies now control the country. In the most dramatic turnabout since the 1979 revolution, Iran has evolved from theocratic state to military dictatorship.
Disenchantment with clerical rule has been growing for years. To the urban youths who make up Iran's most active political class, the mullahs represent the crude rigidity of Islamic law. To the rural poor, they epitomize the corruption that has meant unbuilt schools, unpaved roads and unfulfilled promises of development.
This hostility overflowed during the 2005 presidential race, with the defeat of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric widely considered corrupt, by Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former officer in the Revolutionary Guards.
In Mr. Ahmadinejad, the public saw a man who repudiated the profligacy of the clerical class, a man who was ascetic, humble and devout. And he capitalized on that image to consolidate power and to promote his brothers in arms. Fourteen of the 21 cabinet ministers he has appointed are former members of the guards or its associated paramilitary, the Basij. Several, including Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, are veterans of notorious units thought to have supported terrorist operations in the 1980s.