The delay came as Egyptians wrestled with conflicting reports about Mubarak’s health. The cycle began late Tuesday with frenzied reports of the former president being pronounced “clinically dead.” By Wednesday afternoon, his attorney was saying that the diagnosis was a false rumor spread by state media.
The military-led government provided no official updates on Mubarak’s condition Wednesday. Security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to news agencies, variously described him as in a coma, using a ventilator and recovering from a stroke.
In an interview, Mubarak attorney Yosri Abdel Razek disputed those descriptions. He said the 84-year-old was in stable condition after being transferred to a military hospital Tuesday because of a worsening head wound caused by a fall in a prison bathroom.
Abdel Razek said Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular uprising last year and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the deaths of hundreds of protesters, was transferred to the hospital to undergo an MRI scan related to his injury and because the prison hospital was not equipped to handle the steady deterioration in his health.
With both contenders in the race to succeed Mubarak claiming victory, final election results could prove explosive. They are unlikely to end an escalating power struggle between the military, which is viewed as backing Shafiq, and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has pledged to challenge a recent military decree that essentially neutered the presidency and gave the generals sweeping powers, as well as a court ruling that dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament. Many analysts described the moves as coup-like.
In an ominous sign of rising tensions, there were scattered but unconfirmed reports that tanks and other armored vehicles were deployed on roads leading into Cairo, in apparent preparation for unrest.
The account of Mubarak’s health provided by his attorney fueled speculation that the ruling military council had drummed up the former president’s near-death scare to smooth his transfer from prison to what is considered a fairly posh hospital or to distract from controversy over the generals’ apparent power grab.
But if the health scare was meant to divert Egyptians’ focus from the election outcome, it didn’t appear successful on Bahr-al-Balad street in Cairo’s Dokki neighborhood, where no one seemed to expect prompt election results. There, walls were adorned with posters of both Morsi and Shafiq, and political debates were jovial, but mention of Mubarak’s health generally prompted eye-rolling.
“Mubarak died 15 minutes ago, 30 minutes ago,” a carpenter announced at midday Wednesday, with striking nonchalance, during a conversation among neighbors at a vegetable stand on the working-class street. A woman seated on the curb dabbed tears from her eyes. No one else betrayed reaction.
Mubarak was the past, said spice seller Ahmed Ali el-Zohary, 61. Now people want to know who can curb rising rents. He said he has confidence in neither Morsi nor Shafiq and had marked his ballot with an “X.”
Of Mubarak, Zohary said with a sly smile: “We don’t want him to die. We want him to be tortured like this forever. We want him to stay in intensive care all the time.”
The woman sitting on the curb, Nehmedo Kemel Selem, said the military’s moves were less disturbing than a prospective Morsi win. She said she was “scared of the Muslim Brotherhood, with their beards.”
“If he’s not good, he’ll be removed,” Kemel Selem, 55, said of Shafiq.
Analysts and activists who are wary of Shafiq say they fear otherwise — that a president with military support, like Mubarak, might be difficult to dislodge.
At a nearby corner, Mahmoud Sohail al-Abhar, 53, a union leader for tour bus drivers, said his top concern was stability. Mubarak had provided that, but he had not helped the working class, Abhar said. So he was hoping for a Morsi win.
“I don’t know how much is going to change,” Abhar said, “but I know Shafiq is going to keep things the same.”