CAIRO – Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was on life support after suffering a stroke in prison Tuesday, deepening the country’s uncertainty just as a potentially explosive fight opened over who will succeed him.
The 84-year-old Mubarak suffered a “fast deterioration of his health” and his heart stopped beating, the state news agency MENA and security officials said. He was revived by defibrillation but then had a stroke and was moved from Torah Prison to a military hospital in Cairo.
MENA initially reported he was “clinically dead” upon arrival, but a security official said he was put on life support. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari, a member of the ruling military council, told the Al-Shorouk newspaper website that Mubarak was in a “very critical condition,” but denied he was dead.
The developments came amid threats of new unrest and political power struggles, 16 months after Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising demanding democracy.
Earlier Tuesday, both candidates in last weekend’s presidential election claimed victory.
The Muslim Brotherhood, emboldened by its claim that its candidate won the election, sent tens of thousands of supporters into the street in an escalation of its confrontation against the ruling generals who invoked sweeping powers this week that give them dominance over the next president.
Some 50,000 protesters, mostly Islamists, protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, chanting slogans in support of Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and denouncing the generals.
“It is not possible to have a revolution and then have military rule and a president with no authority,” said protester Mohammed Abdel-Hameed, a 48-year-old schoolmaster who came with his son from Fayyoum, an oasis province 60 miles southwest of Cairo.
The conflicting claims over the election could further stoke the heat. The campaign of Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, said Tuesday he won the election, denying the Brotherhood’s claim of victory. Hundreds of Shafiq’s supporters took to the streets in Cairo in celebration.
The election commission is to announce the official final results on Thursday, and either way the loser is likely to reject the result. If Shafiq wins, it could spark an explosive backlash from the Brotherhood, which has said Shafiq could only win by fraud.
The sudden health crisis of Mubarak, who is serving a life prison sentence, briefly overshadowed the political standoff.
Moving Mubarak out of prison to Maadi military hospital is likely to further infuriate many in the public. Many Egyptians have been skeptical of earlier reports that his health was worsening since he was put in prison on June 2, believing the reports were just a pretext to move him to another facility. There is a widespread suspicion that security and military officials sympathetic to their old boss are giving him preferential treatment.
Mubarak has been serving a life sentence at Torah Prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising against his rule last year. The verdict against him has already been a spark for protests – thousands massed in Tahrir when the court acquitted him and his sons on separate corruption charges and cleared several top security chiefs on the protester killings.