CAIRO – Hosni Mubarak’s health worsened Monday, with doctors twice having to use a defibrillator on the imprisoned former leader, adding to the tumult in Egypt before this weekend’s runoff election for president.
Mubarak, 84, was slipping in and out of consciousness, suffering from high blood pressure and breathing difficulties, and in a deep depression, according to security officials at Torah prison, where he is serving a life sentence. Doctors there could not find a pulse twice, and used the defibrillator, they said.
The deposed leader, who was being given liquids intravenously, also lost consciousness several times Sunday.
His health crisis came at time of political anxiety in Egypt, with a former prime minister from the Mubarak regime facing an Islamist in a showdown at the ballot box on June 16-17.
“He is causing everyone a headache,” said Ahmed Badawi, a liberal activist who participated in last year’s Arab Spring uprising that ousted Mubarak. “There are daily rumors that he died and where he is held is also a thorny issue. He is definitely feeding the nervousness we are all living in these days.”
Egypt is in the home stretch of a 16-month transitional period overseen by the military council that succeeded him – a time that has seen the rising power of the Islamists, deadly street protests and gross human rights abuses blamed on the generals, including the torture of detainees and trials for civilians in front of military tribunals.
The generals have promised to hand over power to a civilian administration by July 1, about 10 days after the winner of the runoff is announced. The election pits Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, against Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But that could all be thrown into chaos Thursday if Egypt’s highest court – the Supreme Constitutional Court – rules that legislation banning Mubarak regime figures from running for office is constitutional. Shafiq would be booted out of the race, the runoff would be canceled and the first round of voting would be repeated.
The court could also uphold a lower court ruling that the law governing parliamentary elections held over three months starting in November was unconstitutional. That decision could lead to the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament or a partial repeat of the election.
Shafiq, like Mubarak a former air force officer, is widely viewed as the quintessential “feloul,” or remnant of the old regime. His law and order platform has resonated among many Egyptians frustrated by persistently tenuous security, a faltering economy and a seemingly endless wave of protests, sit-ins and strikes.
While a Shafiq win would most likely lead to an eruption of protests, a Morsi presidency is widely feared to serve as a vehicle for more religion in government and restrictions on freedoms, a prospect that liberals, leftists, women and minority Christians find to be alarming.
Should Mubarak die in the coming days, it could also have an impact on the result of the runoff.
“We are a very emotional people. So, if Mubarak dies before the election, there will be an outpouring of sympathy for the regime, and Shafiq can certainly benefit from that,” said Mahmoud Zaki, a political activist and a Brotherhood member. “When Mubarak’s grandson died several years ago, we all forgot what he did for us and we mourned with him the loss of the young boy.”