ANALYSIS / Mousavi Testing How Far He Can Take Iran Protests

Defeated reformist candidate and supporters now openly defy supreme leader, who backs Ahmadinejad.

How far can Mir Hossein Mousavi take his "Green Revolution"? It's not clear yet what his response to the sermon of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be, and his supporters continued Saturday to protest. Mousavi failed to appear before the Council of [Constitutional] Guardians to present his petition against the vote count, a gesture that reflects blatant lack of confidence in the council Khamenei appointed to review the election results.

Mousavi's actions have managed to show up Khamenei as being "the leader of one side" and an interested party, and therefore not an arbitrator. This is yet another significant challenge to the authority of the Islamic supreme leader.

On Friday Khamenei used threats in his sermon as a new deterrent. Legal protests would be tolerated, disturbances and illegal protests will be met with severe force. An appeal on the vote within the legal framework would be acceptable, but appealing via the street as a way of bypassing the law - no way.

But the law is Khamenei's law. He controls it and the legal system, including the Council of Guardians, half of whose members he appoints.

What is worse, Khamenei has positioned himself unequivocally on the side of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; therefore any appeal against the election results is tantamount to challenging the supreme leader.

The proposed solution, of a sample 10 percent recount of the ballots, was rejected by Mousavi. For numerous ballot boxes the number of voters was bigger than the number of registered voters, so a recount will not reveal fraud, though Khamenei claimed otherwise.

However, this proposal does contain a kind of concession compared to earlier offers, which proposed the Council of Guardians decide whether the vote count was correct - without revealing numbers. The council will work unilaterally on its recount and this week will present its proof of the legitimacy of the election.

Khamenei and Mousavi and his supporters both face a dilemma. Use of force to disperse demonstrations may cost the regime in more ways than severely undermining its legitimacy. If Khamenei gives the order to the Revolutionary Guards to shoot to kill, and many Iranians are killed, the act could divide the Revolutionary Guards, who are still rankling over the poor election showing of their former commander, Mohsen Riza'i, who received a disgraceful 1.7 percent of the vote.

Ali Ja'afari, the current head of the Revolutionary Guards, had supported Ahmadinejad and is a Khamenei appointment, but there is considerable criticism of the current president within the hard-line regime.

Khamenei is also threatened by former president Ali Rafsanjani, head of the Assembly of Experts, which appoints the supreme leader. Rafsanjani has publicly criticized Khamenei for not responding to insults to him and his family from Ahmadinejad.