"The reality is that increasingly other people are seeing that if [Khamenei] doesn't give an inch, then the whole regime will go," says Abbas Milani, a specialist at Stanford University. "So my sense is we are moving inexorably toward a transitional stage of compromise that will eventually lead to a much more democratic state."
During the 30th-anniversary celebrations last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared Iran to be a "superpower, real and true." But the political crisis of the past year has hobbled the regime, dissipated its regional influence, and set Iranians against one another in ways not seen in decades.
A critical problem are radicals on both sides, especially those on the right who can't imagine any nod toward reformists, whom they consider "apostates" and who, in the rhetoric of some regime officials, should be condemned or even killed.
Among them are hard-line leaders of the increasingly powerful Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), whose ideological Basij militia fought postelection street battles.
"Whoever finds compromise has to do something about the Revolutionary Guard, to defang them and send them back to their barracks, [even if they] keep some of their loot," says Dr. Milani.
Top Guard commanders have boasted that their intervention in the election in favor of Ahmadinejad saved Iran from self-destruction at the hands of reformists, and that their expansion of power after the vote was a "new stage" of the revolution. Yet even that force is subject to profound changes taking place in Iran.
"The IRGC command structure doesn't work in a vacuum; it works in the context of a society where the bulk of its own membership 12 years ago voted for [former reformist President Mohammad] Khatami," says Milani. "Continuing with their current path will compromise their chance of even getting to keep what they have already taken."