Was it a rallying cry, or a swan song?
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, laid it all on the line yesterday in an epic sermon that will be remembered for his veiled threat to protest organizers that they "will be held accountable for all the violence, bloodshed and rioting" if they do not end a week of demonstrations calling for a rerun of last week's presidential election.
"I have my own life," the Supreme Leader said yesterday. "I have a handicapped body" - a reference to his right arm, disabled in an attempted assassination - "and I have a little good name.
"I am ready to sacrifice all I have for the cause of this [Islamic]Revolution," he said, seeking their support for the mission he had in mind.
The Supreme Leader equated the presidential election, in which his preferred candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won by a wide margin, with the "Islamic establishment" itself. So that to challenge the result is to challenge the Islamic establishment, and that means to challenge the Islamic Revolution itself.
Not every protester will get the full import of that equation - the majority of demonstrators were born after the turbulent events of 1979 that brought about the demise of the shah and the rise of an Islamic republic - but they undoubtedly understood that, in drawing this link, the Supreme Leader was justifying whatever action might be taken against the protesters.
At his disposal are the armed forces, of which he is commander-in-chief; the Revolutionary Guard, the hardened politicized force that has benefited so much from the Khamenei leadership; and the million-strong Basij militia. The Basijis are the ones who rode in on motorcycles the other night breaking heads with their batons.
What remains to be seen is whether Iran's leading clerics also will side with him. Many of them have declined to share in the Supreme Leader's endorsement of the results, and some of them are known to be concerned about the continued presidency of Mr. Ahmadinejad and even have reservations about the Khamenei leadership. While the defeated candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, appeared to call off a march that was planned for today, it was unclear whether the many diverse groups that backed him in the election and have sustained the protests all week will heed the call, or will turn out in force.
But if yesterday's sermon will best be remembered for its threats, it also should be parsed for its broader meaning. The words were full of images and classical references that are key to understanding the Islamist Revolution.
Here are seven:
1. 'This election was a political earthquake for your enemies' With "enemies," Ayatollah Khamenei is referring to those countries - Israel, Great Britain and the United States in particular - that want to expose the Iranian regime as something less than a democracy. The leader is saying that by the enormous voter turnout - some 85 per cent - and by their free choice of re-electing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians have shocked the "arrogant powers" opposed to the Islamic Republic.
2. 'This election showed off religious democracy for the world to see' By "religious democracy," the Supreme Leader is referring to the essence of Iran's form of democracy. While all candidates in this latest presidential election campaigned freely, participated in televised debates, and were - supposedly - voted for freely, there was one key limitation on their campaigns: In order to be a candidate, each person had to be approved by the 12-man Guardian Council. This body, made up of six clerics appointed by the leader, and six religious jurists appointed by the parliament, is tasked with ensuring the acceptability of all candidates.
3. 'There were 40 million votes for the Islamic establishment' The leader's reference to the "Islamic establishment" was one he made frequently in his sermon. He is referring to the hierarchy of clerics and religious officials who rule the country. As noted above, not just anyone can be a candidate for office.
All four presidential candidates, he reminded the people, are members of the Islamic establishment (one is the incumbent president; another was prime minister for eight years; a third was head of the Revolutionary Guards, and the last is a former speaker of the parliament).
So every vote cast was a vote for the same establishment, the same system.
4. 'I don't know anything about that' Ayatollah Khamenei spoke approvingly of the televised debates and the way the candidates behaved, for the most part. The exception was the personal abuse hurled by candidates at each other and at other members of the Islamic establishment.
Seeking to set the record straight, the leader addressed one of those - Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - who had been attacked by President Ahmadinejad. Allegations of corruption were "unfounded" said the leader, not proven.
He said he had known Mr. Rafsanjani for 52 years, and as for how Mr. Rafsanjani accumulated his wealth, he said, "I don't know anything about that."
It was such a carefully worded endorsement of the former president's innocence as to be meaningless.
5. 'Yes, there is corruption' An astonishing admission by the Leader, but one he quickly dismissed as irrelevant because the corruption doesn't exist on a large scale. If there were only half a million or even a million votes separating the two leading candidates, he said, there might be reason to suspect fraud in counting the vote.
"But how can 11 million votes be replaced or changed?" he asked, wanting to reassure the people.
6. 'Giving in to illegal demands is the beginning of dictatorship' Having established that the results of the election were not subject to sufficient corruption to change the outcome, the Leader chastised those who took to the streets in protest. "Why on Earth hold elections," he asked, if people are just going to try to undo the results by intimidating officials. That is the path to despotism, he warned.
7. 'We do not need any advice in human rights' The Ayatollah said he was particularly incensed by those foreign leaders who presume to counsel Iran on the need to observe human rights. It was the United States, he pointed out, that caused so much death and destruction in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and that has financed the Zionists who suppress the Palestinian people.
The U.S., he noted, is also the country that, during the administration of "the husband of that woman" in Washington [Hillary Clinton] trapped 80 people, including women and children, in a house and set fire to the building, burning them alive (a reference to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Tex.). Iran has nothing to learn from such people, he argued.