Mubarak health drama adds to Egypt uncertainty

Former President Hosni Mubarak's health woes give space to new unrest in Egypt.

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom during his verdict hearing in Cairo on June 2, 2012. Picture: AFP.

CAIRO - Hosni Mubarak's move out of jail to a Cairo military hospital where officials said he was slipping in and out of a coma on Wednesday has created a fresh sense of uncertainty for Egyptians as the wait for results of a presidential election drags on.

Exactly what ails the 84-year-old, who ruled for 30 years till last year, is unclear but two security sources and one of his defence lawyers described his condition as "almost stable" or "on the way to stability" in an intensive care suite, with doctors occasionally using a ventilator to help him breathe.

Though now a convict serving a life sentence, Mubarak was being treated in one of Egypt's best-equipped facilities in a leafy suburb by the Nile. It has prompted some Egyptians to suspect a ruse, connived at by the brother officers who have replaced him, to get their fallen leader out from behind bars.

Mubarak's health has been a subject of intense speculation since he was jailed for life on June 2, casting his shadow over the political transition and reminding the nation that, 16 months after his fall, few questions have been answered about where Egypt is heading and whether democracy will take root.

Having held a first free presidential vote at the weekend, the election committee said it could still not say who won and that it might miss a target of Thursday to announce results.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the former president's long-time adversary, declared victory for their candidate Mohamed Morsy after a presidential run-off vote on Saturday and Sunday. Rival Ahmed Shafik, a former air force chief like Mubarak and his last prime minister, has challenged the claim and says he is ahead.

The election committee said it was reviewing complaints.

But whoever is declared winner the next president's powers have already been curbed in a last-minute decree issued by the army after it ordered the Islamist-led parliament dissolved.

Reflecting the multiple levels of uncertainty, newspaper headlines pondering the outcome of the presidential vote vied with those reporting the unclear status of the former president's health after his evening transfer from the medical unit of Cairo's Tora prison to the Maadi military hospital.

"Mubarak in a coma between life and death," wrote Al-Akhbar newspaper, below a headline on the row between Morsy and Shafik over who won: "Future president in the realm of the unknown."

One of Mubarak's defence lawyers, Mohamed Abdel Razek, described former president "almost stable" blaming his lack of proper treatment at the prison for his condition.

"The president still goes in and out of comas and had a stroke and all of this requires a hospital with special medical equipment that would be able to treat his condition," he said.

That description was broadly echoed by two security sources, one of whom said Mubarak's health was "on its way to stability".

A few dozen people gathered overnight outside the smart, whitewashed hospital building set in pleasant gardens. The shah of Iran, ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution, spent his last days and died there.

Anwar Sadat, whose 1981 assassination by Islamists propelled Mubarak, his vice president, into power, was taken to the same hospital, but declared dead on arrival.