THE official line is clear: President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is not ill.
The 82-year-old elected autocrat, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1981, was determined to scotch fears he is suffering from cancer as he continued a series of unusually high-profile meetings yesterday.
For almost a month now, the nation has been gripped by persistent rumours that its president is suffering from complications following a gall bladder operation in March.
The Jerusalem Post suggested the real issue was cancer after he cancelled two meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Like Cuba’s Fidel Castro, he symbolises the very pulse of his nation but Mubarak, the West’s staunchest and most dependable Arab ally, has refused to appoint a successor, widely expected to be his son Gamal.
With elections due next year, Mubarak must decide soon.
Every time a health rumour surfaces, it shakes Egypt to the core and affects its stock markets. The vibrations ripple across the Middle East and as far as Washington and Moscow.
Despite Mubarak’s best efforts, fears of a power vacuum in the future just won’t go away.