Mubarakâ€™s goon squads remind me a bit of the countergangs organised by the Indonesian army to try and terrify the population of East Timor into voting against independence in 1999. Theyâ€™re described at length in Richard Lloyd Parryâ€™s In the time of Madness.
A number of recruits for these outfits â€“ with names like Red and White Iron â€“ were drawn from children orphaned by the TNI in the original round of massacres after the 1975 invasion and raised in Indonesian orphanages. There was a payroll vote, as youâ€™d expect, and criminal elements raised through various rackets run by Kopassus* partly as a means of harvesting street muscle as required. Quite a few were recruited through an organisation called Gardapaski, supposedly a local version of the Grameen Bank. What it actually did was front money to unemployed young men in return for their support when necessary.
Obviously, Mubarrakâ€™s people will have their own channels for getting the meat on the street. I guess the point here is that a reasonably imaginative dictatorship has all sorts of ways to get the people it needs to do the things it wants done while not wearing official uniforms and that we wonâ€™t find out what they are until the system that does it is brought to an end.
And itâ€™ll have to end now. A couple of days ago it was pretty clear that if they put Husni on a plane then the policy status quo could stay basically unchanged; that the removal of Mubarrak would carry enough of a symbolic charge to preserve most of the power of the local overclass, though of course things would have to become more inclusive. I thought that was the strategy: make Husni, or his absence, the change we can believe in, and yay reform. But not now. How can you hope to have an even partially fair election in nine months with the power structure that caused todayâ€™s carnage still basically in control?