As Iran enters a third month of popular protests, or a revolutionary uprising as some analysts assert, it seems that the troubled country may be heading for an impasse in which the ruling clique is neither able to calm down the situation nor capable of crushing it as it did on a number of previous occasions.
Taken by surprise by what seems to be a spontaneous upsurge of political energy against a moribund system, the regime's many opponents both inside and outside Iran have so far failed to channel that energy towards regime change.
Thus both the regime and its opponents are looking for a deus ex-machina to slide down his celestial chute and cut the Gordian knot with a single blow. In other words, they are desperately seeking a pair of boots to kick the mullahs back into their mosques and madrassas while coaxing the rebellious youth back to universities, high schools, primary schools and even kindergartens.
But where could the boots come from?
Those who hope to save the Khomeinist regime and those still nostalgic of the anti-Shah revolt of five decades ago seek the savior-in-boots in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The week before last, over two-thirds of the members of the Islamic Majlis, Iran's 290-seat ersatz parliament, passed a resolution inviting the IRGC to step in full force and "cleanse the country" of anti-regime elements.
Several opposition groups in exile have even published open letters to IRGC commanders inviting them, in effect, to stage a coup and to "flush the mullahs out of power."
At the other end of the spectrum, nationalist and self-styled "democratic" personalities and groups hope that the booted deus ex-machina will come from the regular national army.
Both aspirations face a number of hurdles.
Those who want an IRGC commander to play Napoleon Bonaparte ignore the fact that the IRCG is more of a brand or a franchise than a revolutionary army like the one that Napoleon, with several spectacular victories behind it, headed.
Unlike "revolutionary" armies in pre-Communist China, pre-independence Algeria, or the Vietcong and Pathet Lao in Indochina, the IRGC was created after the victory of the Khomeinist revolution with the clear mission of suppressing dissent rather than fighting foreign armed enemies.
Because it is divided into more than a dozen entities, designed for use in a wide range of activities such as security, espionage, black market operations, business ventures, money laundering and "exporting revolution," it has never been able to develop a coherent culture let alone an esprit de corps.
Moreover, those wearing the IRGC brand are already in power under different guises. They have over 100 seats in the Majlis (more than the mullahs) and have claimed most of the other plum positions such as provincial governors, diplomats, and more lucrative ones as heads of huge public sector businesses. IRGC chief General Hassan Salami sits on the executive boards of some 30 conglomerates.
In other words, Iran already has a military-security regime that uses a pseudo-religious narrative as a cover for what is a very this-worldly and brutal pursuit of power and wealth.
If the mullahs created the IRGC to protect their power and privilege, the IRGC, in turn created the Basij militia and a dozen other instruments of oppression to protect its own power and wealth.
Those who describe the present regime in Iran as a theocracy are victims of a visual error by not noticing the military cap under the turban.
I know that this might sound outlandish, but one may suggest that, rather than being the guardian of the revolution, the IRGC may have become the principal cause of its loss of legitimacy and eventual downfall. The IRGC cannot deliver Iran from the Khomeinist nightmare because it has been and remains the key instrument pushing Iran into that nightmare.
So, can the regular army produce the Bonaparte that many seem to seek? My answer is: no. Iranian politics never developed a culture of military coups.
What caused some confusion was the erroneous description of events that led to the emergence of Reza Shah the Great as the architect of a new Iran as a coup d'état. In 1921, a group of political activists, backed by a small number of troops led by Reza Khan, marched on Tehran and "persuaded" the then monarch Ahmad Shah to appoint one of their leaders as prime minister.
There was no change in the constitution and Ahmad Shah remained head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces until he himself decided that a comfortable life on the French Riviera was more enjoyable than sitting on the Peacock Throne in Tehran. Reza Khan served as minister of war, prime minister, and finally interim prince, until an elected Constituent Assembly decided to keep the constitutional monarchic system and name him as king.
Some young protesters have been shouting the slogan "Reza Shah, Bless Your Soul" to indicate their hope that history repeats itself by producing a similar "savior", at a time that Iran tries to shake off another despotic system.
What they ignore, perhaps, is that Reza Shah was the expression and implementer of the goals of the Constitutional Revolution rather than their architect. Backed by a generation of politicians, intellectuals, clerics, bazaar merchants and military officers, he was able to negotiate a dangerous passage in Iran's history and lay the foundations of a modern nation-state.
Reza Shah was not a creature of the Iranian Army but its creator. Today, as in 1921, the Iranian Army, even assuming it has not been turned into a ghost of itself under the Khomeinist regime, is more of a character in search of an author rather than an author capable of producing a new Reza Shah.
Whichever way you look it, the present system no longer reflects Iran's identity as a young nation aspiring to build a normal life and gain a presence in the modern world, something that neither the turban nor the military cap is able to provide.
Iran doesn't need a military coup to replace one form of despotism with another. What it needs is a national consensus to restore our constitutional system and its aspirations that produced Reza Shah in the context of national sovereignty and the rule of law.
In other words stop looking for boots and start looking at the path chosen by those on the march towards a better future for Iran.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.