Iran's top opposition figure, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has called the Iranian regime a dictatorial "cult" in a fiery statement aimed at boosting the morale of his dispirited followers. He lambasted the government not only for its brutal suppression of peaceful protests but on its management of the economy and foreign affairs. "The nation that faces an adventurous, warmongering foreign policy and destructive economic policy - wants changes," he said in an interview on his website, Kaleme.com, on Saturday.
Mr Mousavi's comments mark a fresh drive by the opposition's leadership to reassure the millions who feel robbed by last June's elections that they are not abandoning the fight. But he urged the so-called green movement's followers to be patient, preparing them for a long struggle against a government that he branded a "cult that has no respect for Iran's national interests". Echoing remarks last week by Mehdi Karrubi, his fellow opposition leader, he insisted that their aim is constitutional change, not regime change.
Both men, founding fathers of the Islamic republic who unsuccessfully challenged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the presidency, are trying to force an intransigent regime to bend while keeping onside a growing number of young followers who believe the system is beyond reform. These were Mr Mousavi's first public remarks since the authorities snuffed out opposition attempts to gate-crash state-sponsored rallies on February 11, which marked the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
The regime relied on unprecedented security measures, pre-emptive arrests and crippling communications systems. The government, meanwhile, was able to orchestrate a much larger show of ostensibly popular street support. It has accused the opposition's leaders of being stooges in a western-backed plot to undermine the Islamic republic. Mr Mousavi acknowledged that February 11 marked a defeat for the opposition but suggested that the regime's victory was a Pyrrhic one because it had relied on repression.
"I'm sure that this massive crackdown will deepen and broaden the [opposition] movement," he said. He added: "Our people very well understand the difference between merciful religiousness and power grabbers in the clothes of religion." Ayatollah Khamenei last week demanded once again that opposition leaders end protests and defiant statements, declaring that by "refusing to bow before the law" they had lost the "privilege of being part of the system".
Iran's Revolutionary Guards, meanwhile, trumpeted plans to double the numbers of armed, pro-government Basij militia in Tehran. Mr Mousavi responded by joining Mr Karrubi in calling for permission to stage an official demonstration. He said that the regime had managed to "engineer" a show of popular support on Revolution Day only by spending "exorbitant amounts" on bussing in large numbers of supposed loyalists and coercing state employees to attend. These were the same tactics favoured by the "despotic" shah, he jibed.
Mr Karrubi expressed confidence last week that the opposition would easily win in a fair and open duel of rallies between opposition and government supporters. Mr Mousavi did not propose new strategies, apart from asking permission for peaceful protests. And, more vaguely, he urged his supporters to "boost the level of public awareness". This, he said, "is not achieved only in street protests" - an acknowledgement that the regime has learnt how to cope with the opposition's hitherto successful tactic of taking to the streets in huge numbers on emotive anniversaries.
Mr Mousavi, however, urged his followers to avoid violence during expected protests in the middle of this March during the Zoroastrian fire festival, just before the Persian New Year at the start of spring. He and Mr Karrubi have also told their followers to abstain from chanting slogans - such as "Death to the dictator!" - against Ayatollah Khamenei. They have sent the supreme leader conciliatory signals in recent weeks, insisting that they are not contesting his position, despite his support for Mr Ahmadinejad, whose government they insist is "illegitimate".
Many doubted that Mr Mousavi, a diffident, 68-year-old architect and painter who had been out of politics for two decades, had the nerve to take on the regime or the charisma to harness the anger of millions of young Iranians who feel disenfranchised by June's vote. Despite his most caustic remarks in months, Mr Mousavi has continued to give the regime a way out of its self-inflicted crisis. He did not repeat his demand last June for a vote recount, and urged tolerance for those who did not support the opposition.
"Everyone is not supposed to be of our view," he said. "All Iranians, except for a group of murderers and machete-wielders, are our brothers and sisters. Even the military and police forces are our brothers and we well know they are forced to exercise violence." His long-term strategy remains one he unveiled in a five-point plan several weeks ago. Apart from urging the release of all political prisoners and the unshackling of the media, at its core is a demand for free and fair elections the next time around.