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."