Official: Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is on life support

Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gestures as he is wheeled out of a courtroom following his verdict hearing in Cairo June 2, 2012. AFP/GettyImages

Updated 8:02 PM ET

(AP) CAIRO - Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was being kept alive by life support after the 84-year-old ousted leader suffered a stroke in prison Tuesday, officials said, deepening the country's uncertainty just as a potentially explosive fight opened over who will succeed him, with both candidates claiming to have won last weekend's presidential election.

The developments, which saw Mubarak moved out of prison to a military hospital, add further layers to what is threatening to become a new chapter of unrest and political power struggles in Egypt, 16 months after Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising demanding democracy.

Cairo-based MENA news agency had reported Mubarak had been declared "clinically dead," which is defined as the moment the heart stops beating and respiration ceases, but the patient is not brain dead yet. Officials have since denied the report.

MENA also quoted an official as saying doctors used a defibrillator on him several times, but the efforts were not successful. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Interior Ministry spokesman Alaa Mahmoud said earlier Tuesday Mubarak was moved by ambulance from the hospital in Torah Prison to nearby Maadi Hospital in southern Cairo. The military facility is where Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat was declared dead after being shot by Islamic extremists in 1981.

The state news agency had said Mubarak's health condition was rapidly deteriorated, with his heart stopping briefly, then suffering a stroke.

Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison on June 2 for failing to stop the killing of protesters in last year's uprising that led to his ouster.

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Moving Mubarak out of prison is likely to further infuriate many in the public. Many Egyptians have been skeptical of earlier reports that his health was worsening since he was put in prison on June 2, believing the reports were just a pretext to move him to another facility. There is a widespread suspicion that security and military officials sympathetic to their old boss are giving him preferential treatment.

Details of the crisis were still sketchy. Earlier, MENA and officials said that while at the Torah Prison hospital he suffered a "fast deterioration of his health." His heart stopped beating until he was revived by defibrillation, then he suffered a stroke.

At that point, he was moved from the prison hospital to Maadi military hospital - notably the same one where his predecessor Anwar Sadat was declared dead more than 30 years ago after being gunned down by Islamic militants.

When Mubarak arrived at the hospital, he was "clinically dead," MENA reported. It said doctors repeatedly defibrillated him with no initial response. But later, a security official said Mubarak was on life support. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, had no further details.

Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari, a member of the ruling military council, told the Al-Shorouk newspaper website that Mubarak was in a "very critical condition," but denied he was dead. Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, came to the hospital, where Mubarak was in an intensive care unit, another security official said.

The criteria for using the term "clinically dead" are "poorly defined," said Dr. Lance Becker, a University of Pennsylvania emergency medicine specialist and an American Heart Association spokesman.

"My speculation would be that he had that sort of event where his heart temporarily stopped," said Becker, who is not involved in Mubarak's treatment. "That doesn't mean that it's irreversible." Life support can be used to keep his blood circulating and replace breathing if he is unable to do so on his own, Becker said.

Mubarak's condition brought to mind former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - though it was not known if there was any medical similarity in their conditions. Sharon suffered a massive stroke on 2006. Intensive treatment and repeated operations by a team of brain surgeons stabilized his condition, but he never regained consciousness. Sharon, 84, is still alive but remains on life support in a deep coma.

Mubarak has been serving a life sentence at Cairo's Torah Prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising against his rule last year. The verdict against him has already been a spark for protests - thousands massed in Tahrir when the court acquitted him and his sons on separate corruption charges and cleared several top security chiefs on the protester killings.

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