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As opposition protests continue in Iran over the disputed election between incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hussein Mousavi, speculation has turned toward how a presidency led by Mr. Mousavi might change Iran.
"The difference in actual policies between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as advertised," he said. "I think it's important to understand that either way we are going to be dealing with a regime in Iran that is hostile to the US."
Mr. Obama's comment drew criticism from his 2008 presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who said on CNN, "To say there's not a bit of difference between the two candidates is beside the point," he said. "The Iranian people, obviously, think there's some difference, or tens or hundreds of thousands of them wouldn't be in the streets."
History does not distinguish Mousavi as a reformer. The Irish Times writes that Mousavi "is, and always has been, part of the very fabric of revolutionary Iran," and that many older Iranian voters still recall his time as prime minister from 1981 to 1989 as being far from radical.
"Many of the young people believe Mousavi would bring sweeping changes if he was president but I remember when he was prime minister you couldn't even wear a short-sleeved shirt," says Akbar.... "He may have softened a little since then, but he is still the same man in most respects."
The Times adds that, "...After talking to dozens of younger Mousavi supporters in the last week, it is clear that a great number, having no memory of the Mousavi of the 1980s, are somewhat vague as to what the man really stands for today."
The New York Times, in a profile of Mousavi, notes that during Mousavi's time as prime minister, he was often at odds with Ayatollah Khamenei, who was president at the time and sometimes seen as the more moderate politician.
As prime minister, [Mousavi] often clashed with Ayatollah Khamenei, who was president at the time. The fights were mostly over economic issues; Mr. Moussavi favored greater state control over the wartime economy, and Ayatollah Khamenei argued for less regulation. The president was more moderate on some issues, and unlike Mr. Moussavi, sometimes drew rebukes from Ayatollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader. In that sense they have switched positions, but the animus between them remains.
The Atlantic adds that experts don't believe that Mousavi would support "a full-on revolution against the current regime."
"Mousavi...is part of the system," [Alireza Nader of the Rand Corp.] said. "He's a revolutionary [in the 1979 sense], and this is why he was allowed to run in the first place."
Laura Secor of The New Yorker notes, however, that it is Mousavi's Islamic Revolution credentials that may enable him to make real changes that reformers, like former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, could not.
[Mousavi] is an entirely different kind of animal from reformist politicians of the past; he is identified not with students and intellectuals but with the hardscrabble war years and the defense of the poor. But as one analyst explained to me, the problem he faces is that he is perhaps the only person on the Iranian political scene whose public stature is equal to Khamenei's. He was a favorite son of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the nineteen-eighties. Many Khomeinists in the power structure respect and support him; within the Revolutionary Guards, as well as within the upper clergy, he has a constituency. Traditional, religious people are among his supporters, too. On the morning of June 12th, he may have been the uncharismatic compromise candidate for the anyone-but-Ahmadinejad crowd. But to other voters he was then, and he has increasingly become, something else: the vehicle both for the memory of the utopia that never came, and for the hopes of a younger generation that imagines he shares its vision of the future.