The government’s transparent lies about the recent election results have merely acted as a tipping point, making it crystal clear to the people that they have no voice at all in the selection of their government, and destroying the pretense that Iran’s leaders (at least, the figureheads; not the mullahs themselves who pull their strings) were democratically elected.
That said, what of the influence of other countries? It’s commonplace to put down neocons these days, but if you look at the map you will see that Iran is situated between Iraq and Afghanistan, two nations that have achieved enhanced freedom (although differing in degree, both are freer than they were before) as a result of our interventions there. Those who think that Obama’s Cairo speech had more of an effect on Iran’s elections are dreaming; it’s much more likely that, just as the neocons said, freedom is contagious (even a little bit of it).
But I do think that Obama’s election may have played two small roles. First, it possibly emboldened the mullahs to become more flagrant in negating the will of the people in the election, knowing that Obama wouldn’t do much to protest. In this the mullahs may have underestimated the reaction of the Iranian people and their anger at what had transpired; time will tell whether theirs was a miscalculation or not.
But I do give Obama credit for the second thing: Bush has been a very polarizing figure around the world, and Obama is definitely a more charismatic and less strident one. His tone of conciliation and apology (which I believe also communicates weakness) does have the advantage in this situation of making it much harder for Ahmadinejad or the mullahs to successly demonize him and to blame the present uprising on the US and have it stick—although Khamenei’s been trying anyway.
Which only goes to show that God has a well-developed sense of irony.