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Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 June 2012
Issue No. 1103
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The rumour mill whirrs

News of Mubarak's death has been much exaggerated, writes Shaden Shehab

Click to view caption
Hosni Mubarak

As Muslim Brotherhood supporters filled Tahrir Square protesting against the addendum to last year's interim Constitutional Declaration and the dissolution of parliament and the camps of the two presidential candidates were busy issuing conflicting reports on who was ahead in the polls, the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), which enjoys close ties with the authorities, dropped its own bombshell. Hosni Mubarak, it claimed, was clinically dead.

The former president, reported MENA, had been transferred from Tora prison hospital to Maadi military hospital only to arrive "clinically dead and on life support". By midnight other reports appeared claiming Mubarak had died after suffering a multiple heart attack and failing to respond to resuscitation.

But by dawn on Wednesday the former president had returned from the dead. He was now in a coma, though the public might be forgiven for wondering how seriously they should take further reporting on Mubarak's health, whatever the source.

Mubarak's health has long been the subject of speculation. It intensified following his removal from office, not least because of endless briefings given by his lawyer, Farid El-Deeb.

The most common take on MENA's dramatic news is that it was served as an excuse to transfer Mubarak out of Tora and into the far more comfortable surroundings of the Maadi military medical facility. Reports of the former president's death, imminent death, being attached to life support machines, failing to respond to resuscitation et al, were added to take the sting out of a story many members of the public would see as confirmation that Mubarak was receiving special treatment from officials who still sympathised with their former boss.

Disqualified presidential contender Hazem Abu Ismail had another theory. "The military just want to create a distraction," he announced from a hastily erected stage in Tahrir Square. "They want to deflect attention from protests against the ruling military council, the elections and the amended constitution."

Following his ouster on 11 February 2011 Mubarak was held first in the International Hospital in Sharm El-Sheikh, then in a military hospital closer to Cairo. He was only transferred to Tora prison hospital after receiving a 25-year prison sentence for failing to intervene and prevent the murder of hundreds of peaceful protesters.

Reported to be suffering from high blood pressure and severe depression, El-Deeb demanded his client be transferred to a private or military hospital.

"The former president's condition is critical. It has deteriorated because of the lack of competent care and treatment at the Tora prison hospital and so he has been taken elsewhere," El-Deeb was quoted as saying.

General Said Abbas, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), told Reuters that Mubarak had suffered a stroke and "any talk of him being clinically dead is nonsense". Other SCAF sources said Mubarak's condition was "stable". General Mamdouh Shahin told CNN that "he is not clinically dead as reported, but his health is deteriorating and he is in critical condition."

Al-Arabiya television said Mubarak's wife Suzanne arrived on Tuesday night at the Maadi medical facility, the hospital where Mubarak's predecessor Anwar El-Sadat was declared dead.

A handful of people gathered outside the hospital overnight, some curious bystanders, others supporters of the ousted president. One held up a poster of Mubarak captioned "history will be the judge."

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