- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 18, 2010

U.S. and Western intelligence agencies assess that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is terminally ill, and the Obama administration is closely watching the expected transition of power in a nation that for decades has been an anchor of stability in the volatile Middle East and a key U.S. ally.

Mr. Mubarak on Sunday held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East conflict, George J. Mitchell; and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Nonetheless, the 82-year-old Egyptian leader is thought by most Western intelligence agencies to be dying from terminal cancer affecting his stomach and pancreas.

Earlier this month, several Arab and Hebrew newspapers reported that Mr. Mubarak recently sought treatment for his ailment at a hospital in France. A senior Egyptian government official interviewed for this article said those reports were “without any factual basis whatsoever.”

There are, however, other indications that Mr. Mubarak’s health is failing. In March, the Egyptian leader traveled to Germany for what at the time was said to be gallbladder surgery, a treatment that took him out of action for six weeks, according to a special report on Egypt in the current issue of the Economist.

An intelligence officer from a Central European service told The Washington Times last week that his service estimates that the Egyptian president will be dead within a year, and before Cairo’s scheduled presidential elections in September 2011.

Both the National Intelligence Council and the U.S. Central Command have tasked intelligence analysts to start gaming out scenarios after Mr. Mubarak’s death and how his passing will affect the transition of power, according to three U.S. officials.

Steven Cook, a senior fellow and Egyptian-affairs specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that when he was in the Egyptian capital two months ago, several interlocutors told him the leader was not well.

“When I was in Cairo in May, it was interesting. People were mellow about the prospect of him being ill. Everyone understood the end was near; the estimates were 12 to 18 months,” Mr. Cook said.

He said he heard that an entire floor of the military hospital in the Cairo neighborhood of Mahdi was prepared to treat him. He also said, “I heard that they pump him up with something that makes him able to function, so he can do these meetings and go to these public events.”

A senior U.S. intelligence officer said: “We have access to, for lack of a better word, his court. We know he is dying, but we don’t know when he will die. You can be dying for a long time, by the way. Look at [former Cuban President Fidel] Castro.”

State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley has addressed questions about Mr. Mubarak’s health in the daily briefings at Foggy Bottom.

“No one is looking past Mubarak. He is still the president of Egypt, and we rely on him and his government for the critical role they play in security and stability in the Middle East,” Mr. Crowley said in an interview. “He is still the president, and he still plays a vital role.”

Mr. Mubarak became president after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by terrorists linked to a faction of the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood that later became Egyptian Islamic Jihad under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahri, the current No. 2 leader of al Qaeda.

The Sadat assassination sparked a wave of unrest in Egypt and a harsh government crackdown against Islamic radicals. Ultimately, order was restored, and Mr. Mubarak, a former air force pilot and vice president, assumed power and ruled over Egypt using an emergency law that has snuffed out any competitive political opposition. Mr. Mubarak in May renewed the emergency law for two more years.

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