On June 23, Iranian security forces, reportedly using live ammunition, clashed with protesters numbering in the hundreds in the area of the country's parliament in Tehran. At the same time, there were indications that a behind-the-scenes struggle was intensifying in the corridors of power even as the government continued its campaign to quiet the populace through propaganda and entertainment. A resident of the capital, who asked for anonymity, sent TIME the following report:
In normal times, Iranian television usually treats its viewers to one or two Hollywood or European movie nights a week. But these are not normal times, so it's been two or three such movies a day. It's part of the push to keep people at home and off the streets, to keep us busy, to get us out of the regime's hair. The message is "Don't worry, be happy." Channel Two is putting on a Lord of the Rings marathon as part of the government's efforts to restore peace.
Lots of people, adults and kids, are watching in the room with me. On the screen, Gandalf the Grey returns to the Fellowship as Gandalf the White. He casts a blinding white light, his face hidden behind a halo. Someone blurts out, "Imam zaman e?!" (Is it the Imam?!) It is a reference, of course, to the white-bearded Ayatullah Khomeini, who is respectfully called Imam Khomeini. But "Imam" is at the same time a title of the Mahdi, a messianic figure that Muslims believe will come to save true believers from powerful evildoers at the time of the apocalypse. Isn't that our predicament?