By Fawaz A. Gerges
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Fawaz A. Gerges holds the Christian A. Johnson Chair in Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College. His most recent book is "The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global."
(CNN) - With an apparent political coup in Iran by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters over the weekend, the ruling mullahs have dispensed with all democratic pretense and joined the ranks of traditional dictators in the Middle East.
The hardliners in Tehran, led by the Revolutionary Guards and ultra-conservatives, have won the first round against reformist conservatives but at an extravagant cost - loss of public support.
Widespread accusations of fraud and manipulation are calling into question the very legitimacy and authority of the mullahs' Islamic-based regime. The electoral crisis has exposed a deepening divide between female and young voters, who represent about 70 percent of the population, and a radical conservative ruling elite out of touch with the hopes, fears and aspirations of young Iranians.
The consensus in Iran, particularly among young voters, is the election was stolen from reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Moussavi, and that the outcome did not reflect the electorate's genuine will.
After the Interior Ministry announced the final election results showing a nearly 2-to-1 landslide for Ahmadinejad (62.63 to 33.75 percent), thousands of young protesters took to the streets and clashed with police and set trash bins and tires ablaze. Shock and disbelief turned to anger and rage.