Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak arrived in Paris on Monday, ostensibly for a meeting with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy – but the real reason behind the trip could be new fears for the 82-year old leader's health.
According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based Arabic newspaper, Mubarak underwent a series of medical checks shortly after arriving in the French capital for his last-minute visit.
Reports of the treatment could spark new speculation over the political future of the president, who has not yet declared his candidacy in upcoming presidential elections. His son, Gamal, is widely believed to have been groomed to succeed him – but has also not announced plans to run.
The president's absence has thrust Gamal to the forefront of Egyptian politics, Al-Quds reported. In his role as General Secretary of the Policy Committee, he took part in a series of high-profile meetings in which he called on the government to tackle corruption and present a clear agenda ahead of the planned vote.
Observers say Mubarak's departure could throw Egypt into turmoil, possibly handing power to the Muslim Bortherhood, an Islamist group that, although banned from official representation in parliament, functions as the country's main opposition.
Another challeng to Mubarak, who with the aid of Egypt's draconian emergency laws has ruled almost unopposed since 1981, surfaced earlier this year in the form of the United Nations' former nuclear chief, Mohammed El-Baradei.
El-Baradei emerged as an opposition leader after returning to Egypt in February, and has won popular support by urging the government to respond to peaceful demands for change.
"People are ready, I would say even hungry for change," he said on his return.
In March, Mubarak underwent a back operation in Germany to correct a slipped disk.
It has been rare for state media to report on Mubarak's health, but since his trip to Germany there have been regular updates, apparently broadcast to reassure Egyptians that the president was not seriously ill.
In November, the president interrupted a speech to parliament for 30 minutes, suffering a cold and a slight drop in blood pressure.
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