Iran is in the throes of one of its most ferocious crackdowns on dissent in years, with the government focusing on labor leaders, universities, the press, women's rights advocates, a former nuclear negotiator and Iranian-Americans, three of whom have been in prison for more than six weeks.
The shift is occurring against the backdrop of an economy under so much stress that though Iran is the world's No. 2 oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline.
At the same time, the nuclear standoff with the West threatens to bring new sanctions.
Analysts have said that the hard-line administration of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces pressure for failing to deliver on promises of greater prosperity from soaring oil revenue.
It has been using US support for a change in government as well as a possible military attack as the pretext to hound his opposition and its sympathizers, the analysts said.
Some analysts describe the crackdown as a "cultural revolution," an attempt to roll back the clock to the time of the 1979 revolution, when the newly formed Islamic republic combined religious zeal and anti-imperialist rhetoric to try to assert itself as a regional leader.
Equally noteworthy is how little has been permitted to be discussed in the Iranian news media.
Instead, attention has been focused on Ahmadinejad's political enemies, like former president Mohammad Khatami and the controversy over whether he violated Islamic morals by shaking hands with an unfamiliar woman.
Young men wearing T-shirts deemed too tight or haircuts seen as too Western have been paraded bleeding through Tehran's streets by police officers who force them to suck on plastic water jugs, a toilet item that Iranians use to wash their bottoms.
In case anyone misses the point, it is the official news agency Fars distributing the pictures of what it calls "riffraff."
Photographs of far-bloodier images are circulating on blogs and on the Internet.
Iran's police chief boasted that 150,000 people -- a number far larger than previously reported -- were detained in the annual spring sweep against any clothing considered not Islamic.
Analysts trace the crackdown to a March speech by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose pronouncements carry the weight of law.
He warned that no one should damage national unity when the West was waging psychological war on Iran.
Most ascribe Ahmadinejad's motives to block what could become an alliance between the camps of Khatami and former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani.
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