Middle East

Mubarak's busy schedule dispels health rumours

Hosni Mubarak meets Saudi King Abdullah in Sharm el-Sheikh, 28 July
Image caption President Mubarak appears on state TV on a near daily basis

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is engaged in an intense schedule of meetings - proof, his aides say, that rumours of his ill health are completely unfounded.

In the latest such meeting, he met King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The president was shown, unusually, meeting the king at the airport and walking with him.

Other television pictures showed the two men seated and talking together.

As in a televised address last week, President Mubarak looked gaunt, but otherwise well.

Persistent rumours

On a recent busy day of engagements, he hosted the president of Somalia, before he went into an intense round of discussions on the Middle East peace process.

There were one-on-one meetings with US envoy George Mitchell, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Just for good measure, Mr Mubarak also attended a military parade.

Rumours about the president's health gathered pace when he travelled to Germany in March for gall bladder surgery.

They resurfaced when a series of meetings was postponed earlier this month.

Then at the weekend, Mr Mubarak did not travel to Uganda for the recent African Union summit.

But aides point out that he has not been to an African summit for many years, except when they are held in Egypt.

Sensitive issue

The president's well-being is clearly a very sensitive issue for the Egyptian authorities.

In fact, almost every day, President Mubarak is seen on state TV attending a military or police parade or graduation.

In each of them he is shown standing for a lengthy period of time, despite the hot summer weather.

The recent evidence is that the president is functioning normally, indeed relatively energetically bearing in mind that he is aged 82.

However much Egyptian officials try to deny them, they keep circulating, with reports in the Israeli and pan-Arab media.

It's not hard to see why.

Mr Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 29 years.

He has not named a vice-president. So there is no obvious successor.

Succession question

Image caption Gamal Mubarak is a former investment banker

And while there has been speculation that his son Gamal might be lined up for the top job, his father is not openly pressing his case, and many Egyptians see him as a flawed candidate for a number of reasons.

Critics say Gamal Mubarak is a child of privilege, out of touch, and too closely associated with a group of pro-Western business people.

Historians point out that every president since the revolution of 1952 has come from the military, and Gamal's civilian credentials may give him trouble in gaining the support of that important constituency.

Decisions will have to be taken next year.

There is due to be a presidential election towards the end of 2011.

The ruling party, the NDP, have said they will name their candidate in May or June.

In the past Mr Mubarak has said he will continue to serve Egypt until his last breath.

But even if he is not suffering any specific illness, questions will be asked over whether someone who will then be 83 years old is sprightly enough for the rigours of ruling this huge, challenging country, at a time when multiple regional crises are brewing.

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