CAIRO Hosni Mubarak's transfer to a Cairo military hospital from prison after officials said the ousted leader had suffered a health crisis created a fresh sense of uncertainty for Egyptians as they awaited the result of a weekend presidential poll.
Senior officers and military sources gave various accounts overnight of the 84-year-old Mubarak's condition, including that he was in a coma and on life support. But they said he was not clinically dead, as state media reported for a time on Tuesday.
Mubarak's health has been a subject of frequent speculation since he was jailed for life on June 2, casting his shadow over the political transition and reminding the nation that, 16 months after his fall, few questions have been answered about where Egypt is heading and whether democracy will take root.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the former president's long-time adversary, declared victory for their candidate Mohamed Morsy after a presidential run-off vote on Saturday and Sunday. Rival Ahmed Shafik, a former air force chief like Mubarak and his last prime minister, has challenged the claim and says he is ahead.
But whoever is declared winner - an announcement is due to come on Thursday - the next president's powers have already been curbed in a last-minute decree issued by the ruling generals after they ordered the Islamist-led parliament dissolved.
Reflecting the multiple levels of uncertainty, newspaper headlines pondering the outcome of the presidential vote outcome vied with those reporting the unclear status of the former president's health after his evening transfer from the medical unit of Cairo's Tora prison to the Maadi military hospital.
"Contradiction around the death of Mubarak after he suffers a clot to the brain," wrote Al-Ahram newspaper. Below it the headline read, "Most critical 48 hours in Egypt's history" - a reference to the election committee review of appeals from each candidate over alleged voting violations by the other camp.
"Mubarak in a coma between life and death," wrote Al-Akhbar, below a headline highlighting the row between Morsy and Shafik over who won: "Future president in the realm of the unknown."
A few dozen people gathered outside the hospital overnight.
Some were merely curious bystanders who heard a famous patient had arrived, others congregated in support. One held up a poster of Mubarak, resplendent in ceremonial uniform, with the caption: "History will be the judge."
"Mubarak has been dead since his people sentenced him to prison and threw him in Tora; His people wronged him and did not give him his rights," said Loola Yamany, 50. She was one of a handful of people there on Wednesday morning.
Many Egyptians have been skeptical. Some protested when he was not sentenced to death. Many others suspect fellow officers, who pushed him aside after 30 years to appease the protesters, of conniving to give him a more comfortable confinement.
Mubarak's legal team has been pressing to have him moved from the prison hospital to a better-equipped facility, saying he was not receiving adequate treatment for his condition. However, prison authorities previously refused to let him go.
"The former president's condition is critical after it deteriorated because of a lack of good care and treatment inside the Tora prison hospital, so he was taken to the nearest hospital," Mubarak's defense lawyer Farid al-Deeb told Al-Ahram.
For most Egyptians, the identity of their next president was a more pressing concern than the fate of their last.
"The news about Mubarak's health is all speculation. We should depend on reality. We can't keep following rumors," said Maher Eid Hemdan, a 59-year-old pensioner, in central Cairo.
"As for the elections, may the right man win."
There has been no clear statement from independent medical experts on what ails Mubarak, though state media have reported a variety of illnesses from shortage of breath to heart attacks.
The state news agency's report that he was "clinically dead", a condition normally defined by the lack of heartbeat and breathing and one from which patients can be revived, was followed by swift denials from military sources. It was unclear whether at any point he had reached that stage, though some sources did say he was dependent on a machine to breathe.
General Said Abbas, a member of the ruling military council, told Reuters that, while Mubarak had suffered a stroke, "any talk of him being clinically dead is nonsense."
Another military source said he was in a coma and on life support, while a third military source described the former leader as "almost stable," without elaborating.
Private television al-Hayat broadcast video which it said was of Mubarak's move. The images showed a patient on a stretcher being transferred from an ambulance into hospital.
Al-Arabiya television said Mubarak's wife Suzanne arrived on Tuesday night at the Maadi facility, where the last shah of Iran died after he was ousted in the 1979 Islamist revolution.
It is also the hospital where Anwar Sadat, Mubarak's predecessor, was declared dead after he was gunned down by Islamists during a military parade in 1981. Mubarak, who was a little remarked vice president at the time, then took charge.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)