June 20, 2012
Intrigue Over Mubarak Condition Intensifies as Lawyer Offers New Account
By KAREEM FAHIM and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — A new sense of political intrigue compounded the confusion over the health of Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday when one of his lawyers contradicted what he called false reports in Egypt’s state-run media that the imprisoned former president had nearly died, insisting that Mr. Mubarak simply fell down in the prison bathroom.
The new account from the lawyer, Youssri Abdel Razeq, raised new questions not only about Mr. Mubarak’s condition but about possible motives within the military-led government that has been in charge since Mr. Mubarak was deposed in the Egyptian revolution last year.
Until Tuesday, Mr. Mubarak, 84, had been kept in the medical wing of a Cairo prison where he had served 17 days of a life sentence for murder as an accomplice in the police killing of hundreds of demonstrators during the protests that eventually toppled him. His lawyers had complained that his deteriorating health meant he should be spared incarceration.
Conflicting reports about Mr. Mubarak’s deteriorating health began to circulate on Tuesday, including one that declared him “clinically dead,” just as the military council was attempting to extend its hold on state power indefinitely in the face of growing street protests demanding it cede authority to a newly elected president and reinstate the dissolved parliament. Egyptian officials, the state news agency and official media said he had been removed from the prison to a hospital after a stroke and heart attack had left him in a coma, near death and dependent on artificial life support.
Mr. Abdel Razeq denied that on Wednesday. What really happened, the lawyer said, was that Mr. Mubarak had suffered a fall in the prison bathroom, which resulted in a blood clot on his neck, and that he had been removed from the prison at 5 p.m. — long before the reports of his near-death experience began to appear.
“We were surprised at what we can call a media mania in Egypt last night,” the lawyer said.
He said doctors had quickly given Mr. Mubarak medicine to remove the blood clot in his neck, he underwent an M.R.I. test, and was in stable condition. Mr. Abdel Razeq said Mr. Mubarak’s legal team had filed a request with an administrative court seeking Mr. Mubarak’s full release on medical grounds. And he said that they were open to sending Mr. Mubarak abroad for medical care out of the country as well, just he had traveled to Germany two years ago for intestinal surgery. “If the doctors recommend that, of course,” Mr. Abdel Razeq said.
Earlier Wednesday, security officials said Mr. Mubarak was breathing on his own and his condition was nearly stable.
The former president’s health has been a source of constant speculation and suspicion since his imprisonment. Mr. Mubarak has had health problems for years, but the flood of reports and scares in recent weeks led many Egyptians to believe that the military rulers, determined to move Mr. Mubarak from prison, were using those accounts to prepare the public for such a move.
Low ranking security officers, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, speculated that the previous night’s reports that Mr. Mubarak was on the edge of death were part of a scheme to transport him out of Egypt for care. Indeed, many Egyptians on Wednesday wondered if the state news agency reports of his near death were all a morbid hoax.
Security outside the hospital where Mr. Mubarak was said to be staying was light for a facility housing the former head of state. Civilians came and went freely through a side door of the hospital on Wednesday, and two people leaving the grounds said they noticed no change in the hospital’s operations or security.
The news accounts of his failing health late Tuesday spread quickly through Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising, where tens of thousands of people were protesting the military council governing Egypt. In recent days, the generals had moved to seize the kind of uncontested authority that the former president wielded during his nearly three decades in power.
The confusion over Mr. Mubarak’s health injected new volatility into the country’s growing political and constitutional crisis, even as the two candidates to replace Mr. Mubarak as president both declared themselves the winners of the weekend’s election. The result is scheduled to be announced Thursday, although Egypt’s election committee said Wednesday that it may not be ready to declare the winner by then because it was still reviewing appeals from the two candidates.
Analysts marveled that Mr. Mubarak had lost consciousness at the climactic moment of the struggle over the future of the system he had defined for so long, and just two days after the vote to choose his successor.
“It is very Shakespearean,” said Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at Al Ahram Center, a state-financed research institute. “To himself, he is eternal. There can be nobody after him. He does not want to hear the name of his successor.”
On Monday, Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader, said he had won Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, beating Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, with 52 percent of the vote.
The votes were counted publicly at the polling stations, and Egyptian state news media reported the same count as the Brotherhood. Official vote results are expected to be announced this week, but on Tuesday, Mr. Shafik disputed several of the tallies, including those reported in the state news media, that forecast Mr. Morsi as the winner.
A spokesman for Mr. Shafik, Ahmad Sarhan, said without explanation that he had won with 51.5 percent of the vote. But that announcement seemed another tactic in a battle that began before voters went to the polls.
Last week, the generals dissolved Parliament, which was dominated by the Brotherhood, saying the move was justified because of a decision by a court of judges appointed by Mr. Mubarak. The generals also proceeded to issue their own interim constitution, entrenching their power while all but eviscerating the authority of the new president.
The interim constitution also provided the generals and the Mubarak-appointed judiciary with broad sway over the drafting of Egypt’s next permanent constitution.
Former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center monitored the election, said in a statement on Tuesday he was “deeply troubled by the undemocratic turn that Egypt has taken.” The center expressed its “grave concern about the broader political and constitutional context, which calls into question the meaning and purpose of the elections.”
Mr. Carter said that in contrast to the first round of voting last month, some international observers had been subjected to “heightened scrutiny and intimidation from military personnel” during last weekend’s vote.
“There was a small but notable pattern of intimidation of Carter Center witnesses,” Mr. Carter said. The military filmed observers at several polling places, and one international observer felt coerced to make positive statements about the process.
Mr. Carter said he was also concerned about the limitations put on his teams’ ability to monitor the vote and the ballot counting. The “restrictions are contrary to the core principles of credible and effective election observation,” he said in the statement. “The Carter Center will not witness future elections in such circumstances.”
But the Brotherhood was not about to walk away, and it vowed to use the legitimacy of the election to rally the public and fight for power. It called for large street protests until the generals backed down, and on Tuesday tens of thousands of protesters poured into Tahrir Square in response.
As the crowd swelled, a protest leader issued a warning to the military, whose forces had surrounded the Parliament building to prevent elected members from entering.
“We’re giving the forces now standing in front of the Parliament until the official results are announced,” he said, referring to the official election count. “After the official results, if one soldier is standing there — ” he said, his voice drowned out by the crowd.
“The struggle starts now,” said Mohammed Gamal, one of the protesters. “The people’s legitimacy will not be canceled out by the greed of old generals.”
As Mr. Gamal spoke, Mr. Mubarak was being transferred by ambulance to a hospital. Officials and the state news media said that his health had deteriorated rapidly, that he had gone into cardiac arrest and that he needed defibrillation, before suffering the stroke.
Mr. Mubarak was last seen in public 17 days ago when he was sentenced to life. Though the judge had pronounced him responsible for a “dark, dark, dark” era of crimes and said he was broadly responsible for the killings, the verdict was followed by days of street protests. It appeared the judge paved the way for Mr. Mubarak to appeal by saying that prosecutors had shown no evidence linking Mr. Mubarak to the killings.
His questionable conviction, and earlier reports that Mr. Mubarak might be released from the hospital because of his health, became a major issue in the runoff to succeed him.
His health had also declined rapidly after his sentencing, when he was flown by helicopter from the courthouse to a hospital ward in a notorious prison where his government’s political prisoners had served their sentences.
The subject of Mr. Mubarak’s health was a taboo subject, punishable by prison time, when he was president. The flood of reports after his imprisonment led many to speculate that the ruling generals were testing the public reaction in case they decided to move the former president out of prison to the relative comfort of the military hospital.
Mr. Mubarak’s lawyer told CNN on Tuesday that his wife, Suzanne Mubarak, was by his side, and he expressed anger that Egypt’s military rulers had not moved him to the hospital sooner.
It will be their responsibility “if he dies,” the lawyer said.
In Tahrir Square, the news of Mr. Mubarak’s health was met with familiar doubts. “They say Mubarak really died,” said Hatem Moustafa, 22. “Maybe this time it is really true.”
But he was not convinced. “I think the military council is saying this so that we will leave Tahrir Square,” Mr. Moustafa said. “They would say anything to get us to leave the Square.”