Mubarak surgery drives rumor mill

As I've been collecting information on the announcement that Mubarak will be undergoing an operation in Germany for a "slipped disc" tomorrow, I thought I'd share what I've gathered. I may return to hyperlink it later today.

- On Tuesday, an Islamist site said there was a rumor that Mubarak had been hospitalized on Monday and might have died.

- Mubarak appeared on TV on Wednesday, his only appearance since he returned from a trip to Russia on May 29. On the same day he met with CIA Director George Tenet.

- On Saturday night Egyptian TV announced that Mubarak will be undergoing a simple surgical procedure in Germany to treat a slipped disc. The Health Minister, a medical doctor, explained that the operation was necessary to remove cartilage and that Mubarak had chosen it over a non-surgical, but longer-term, treatment. The operation will take place on Monday.

- Later on Saturday, Al Jazeera said that Mubarak may appoint a vice-president in his absence. The appointment would be temporary and last only until the president returned to Cairo.

- This was denied by Al Arabiya, quoting Egyptian officials. The Prime Minister would replace Mubarak as he normally does.

- No vice-president has been appointed since Mubarak became president in 1981, which some Egyptian activists say is against the country's constitution.

- Both Mubarak and his predecessor Sadat became president after being vice-president.

- Mubarak cancelled several meetings with foreign officials, including a 3 June meeting with Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom because of a "sprained ankle" and a 17 June meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

- Al Ahram, Egypt's flagship daily, reported on Thursday that Mubarak would appoint a new cabinet by the end of June.

- Egyptian television was reportedly ordered to show footage of Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, also 76, on Wednesday.

- Last November, Mubarak has a malaise during an address to parliament that he said was caused by a "severe flu." Egyptian TV, which was broadcasting the speech live, filmed an anxious parliament as Mubarak was treated behind the scenes. He returned to the podium briefly before leaving.

- A Western diplomat said there was little risk of politcal instability if Mubarak dies: "The regime is solid, we feel confident that things are stable. The army would still be in control." On the rumor of appointing a vice-president, he said: "It's not his style -- I don't think he would appoint a vice president unless he is sure that there is a serious risk that he might not make it."
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.