Overnight, state media reported that the 84-year old former president, who was ousted in last year’s uprising, suffered a stroke and was put on life support. He was later transferred to a military hospital from the Cairo prison hospital where he recently began serving a life sentence.
The security officials said Wednesday that a team of 15 doctors was supervising the condition of Mubarak, who needed help with his breathing.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The developments add more layers to what is threatening to become a new chapter of unrest and political power struggles in Egypt, 16 months after Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising demanding democracy.
The Muslim Brotherhood, emboldened by its claims that it candidate won the election, sent tens of thousands of its supporters into the street. It was an escalation of its confrontation against the ruling generals over their grab this week of sweeping powers that give them dominance over the next president.
About 50,000 protesters, mostly Islamists, protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday evening chanting slogans in support of the Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsi and denouncing the generals. “We, the people, gave them (the military) legitimacy and we now are taking back,” said Saber Ibrahim, a 36-year-old school teacher who came from his native Beni Suef south of Cairo to participate in the rally.
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 Morsi’s victory. Hundreds of his supporters took to the streets in Cairo in celebration.
The election commission is to announce the official final results on Thursday and no matter who it names as victor, his rival is likely to reject the result as a fraud. If Shafiq is declared winner in particular, 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 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.
Details of the crisis were still sketchy. Earlier the state news agency MENA and officials said that while at the Torah Prison hospital he suffered a “fast deterioration of his health.” His heart stopped beating until he was revived by defibrillation, then he suffered a stroke.
At that point, he was moved from the prison hospital to Maadi military hospital — notably the same one where his predecessor Anwar Sadat was declared dead more than 30 years ago after being gunned down by Islamic militants.
When Mubarak arrived at the hospital, he was “clinically dead,” MENA reported. It said doctors repeatedly defibrillated him with no initial response. But later, a security official said Mubarak was on life support. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, had no further details.
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. Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, came to the hospital, where Mubarak was in an intensive care unit, another security official said.
The criteria for using the term “clinically dead” are “poorly defined,” said Dr. Lance Becker, a University of Pennsylvania emergency medicine specialist and an American Heart Association spokesman.
“My speculation would be that he had that sort of event where his heart temporarily stopped,” said Becker, who is not involved in Mubarak’s treatment. “That doesn’t mean that it’s irreversible.” Life support can be used to keep his blood circulating and replace breathing if he is unable to do so on his own, Becker said.
Mubarak’s condition brought to mind former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — though it was not known if there was any medical similarity in their conditions. Sharon suffered a massive stroke on 2006. Intensive treatment and repeated operations by a team of brain surgeons stabilized his condition, but he never regained consciousness. Sharon, 84, is still alive but remains on life support in a deep coma.
Mubarak has been serving a life sentence at Cairo’s 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.