(The Root) — The man who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for decades clearly still exerts some sway over events in the country. This week, as Egyptian officials struggled to determine who won the first free election in decades, Hosni Mubarak, 84, created a diversion in a truly unique way: by going into a vegetative state. After allegedly slipping in a prison bathroom last Tuesday, he injured his neck, developed a blood clot and suffered a stroke, which led to a coma. Initially the state news service described him as "clinically dead."
His sudden health crisis came just as both rivals in Egypt's election claimed victory. It briefly overshadowed the actual electoral crisis as Egyptians expressed anger that he was being moved from Tora Prison — where he's serving a life sentence for the deaths of some 800 people during protests that led to his 2011 ouster — to Maadi Military Hospital, run by several of his former cronies. Recent reports say that Mubarak is out of the coma.
But will Mubarak's health alter the course of Egyptian politics at this critical time? Probably not, said Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the South Africa-based Afro-Middle East Centre. "What is clear is that he has become completely irrelevant to Egyptian politics," Jeenah told The Root. "One person on Tahrir Square said he's 'politically dead.' Whether he dies, whether he remains in a coma or whether he lives isn't going to have an effect on how things turn out.
"We're not really sure what is happening with Hosni Mubarak," Jeenah added. "The rumors range from he was dead and then he wasn't; that he was on a ventilator, that he was not on a ventilator; that he was in a coma, that he was not in a coma; that he wasn't really ill and that this was all concocted to get him out of the prison and into the hospital, which was renovated for him."
Similar confusion seems to reign in the actual election. The country's Presidential Election Commission has delayed releasing the results to a date that is yet to be announced, according to reports. "The committee has not completed the verification of a total of 400 electoral-violation reports submitted by the two presidential candidates," Tarek Shibl, a senior member of the electoral committee, said in a CNN report.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood says its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, has won, whereas the campaign of Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, has also claimed victory. "I think we should have some concern," Jeenah said. "The Muslim Brotherhood is very confident that Morsi won the election, and they say they have proof in terms of what they have stamped from the judges. But what is worrying is the fact that Shafiq's team, which one would think would be close to the judges — one would think they would have a better sense — says the same."
Even so, he said, Egypt's military council has granted itself such sweeping powers that it would render any leader impotent. "Let's assume that Morsi is announced as the winner," Jeenah said. "He'll be president in name and have all of the symbols, but he won't have power to do much. He won't have power over the military, and the fact that there isn't a legislature means that you have a president who is going to accept laws made by a military council. It would give new meaning to 'lame duck president.' "
It would also mean he'd be something no Egyptian leader has been in 40 years: irrelevant.
A. Hawes has lived and worked in Africa for more than five years and covers a variety of topics and events.