Regime in Abeyance

Wednesday, June 16, some sort of health mishap overtook the 76-year old Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Was the prostate cancer from which he suffers found to have suddenly spread? Did he experience one of his recurring losses of balance which are sometimes accompanied by fainting fits? Or was it both?

No one in Cairo will confirm that anything at all is amiss with the president.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources can shed a certain amount of light on Mubarak’s state of health:

  1. It is poor but not immediately life-threatening.

  2. Although rumors about his death circulated on Wednesday, his condition declined seriously the next day.

  3. Thursday morning, his staff chartered a plane to fly the team of French physicians that has attended the Egyptian ruler for years from Paris to Cairo and arrive by evening. They were asked to bring equipment and nursing personnel. A phone call notified French president Jacques Chirac what was up.

Our sources report that the impression of confusion and muddle overtaking top Egyptian officials was created by their panicky efforts to demonstrate that nothing was wrong with the president and he was functioning as usual. This was far from the truth. At one point, they ordered his Egyptian doctors to give him a shot to keep him on his feet for long enough to appear in public. The doctors objected saying it was dangerous. But the powerful intelligence minister, General Omar Suleiman, made them obey. Defense minister Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi and two journalists were called to the presidential palace. The president’s valets dressed him and applied makeup to hide his pallor and Egyptian intelligence cameramen kept their cameras on him for the two minutes he sat with the defense minister. He was then photographed saying a few words to the correspondents.

This stunt was not a success. Mubarak on camera appeared unsteady and his breathing and speech were labored.

It was not the only mishap of the day. CIA director George Tenet, on a farewell round of Middle East leaders and intelligence chiefs with whom he worked closely for some years, had just arrived in Cairo to see Mubarak. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, when it was discovered that the president was in no shape to receive his visitor, the Egyptians asked the Americans to join them in a communique confirming that the meeting took place. Tenet and the American ambassador David Welch agreed to perform this diplomatic service and affirm that the departing CIA chief had indeed met the Egyptian president that day.

By next day, Egypt’s ruling clique had pulled itself together and taken a number of steps:

  1. The president was transferred from the palace to his private residence nearby. Both buildings were surrounded by Egyptian special operations units brought in the night before. Entry to the two places was permitted only to people armed with permits signed either by Mubarak’s political adviser Osama al Baz or Suleiman.

  2. A conclave of top regime and party officials is now sitting in the heavily-guarded ruling NPD party building on Liberty Square near the Nile to set out steps for the orderly transfer of rule in case the president does not recover. Presided over by deputy prime minister, information minister Safwat al-Sharif, who is rated one of the four most powerful men in Egypt, the group is considering a series of new appointments and changes, based on the lessons learned after the assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in October 1981. Egypt’s ruling body appear to have convened this special panel to prepare for a possible decline in the president’s condition in the coming hours.

  3. The Egyptian treasury pumped several hundred millions of dollars into the Cairo stock exchange and banking system to stave off sharp drops in stocks and the Egyptian currency.

According to our Cairo sources, the two men running the country at this moment are al-Baz and Suleiman. Should Mubarak die or be suddenly incapacitated, General Suleiman would most probably take over as caretaker or acting president until  a successor is chosen and the armed forces decide whom they support.

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