One day Mubarak is very ill; some will even volunteer to suggest he is dying. The next day, his condition is stable and he is strong enough to be having small meals. Likewise the ousted president’s trial: one day it will be in Sharm Al-Sheikh, where he has been staying since he stepped down on 11 February; the next, it will most definitely take place in Cairo.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the editors of several dailies, both independent and state-run, told Ahram Online they were having serious trouble processing news stories on two of the most newsworthy topics of the day.
In the words of one editor, "The general rule is that we count on the news provided by the military correspondent on the premise that it the information is provided by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)". This channel is complemented by and checked against other sources, he added: the prosecutor's office, the office of the prime minister, medical sources in Sharm El-Sheikh, the ministry of health and some Western sources. "Let me say it is always next to impossible to synchronise different accounts."
Another editor says he chooses to play it safe by restricting news stories on Mubarak's health or trial to those attributed to sources who agree to speak on record. In this case it matters little to the credibility of his daily whether the information is accurate or not. "If Mubarak's lawyer says he is in a coma then it is his account and we take it as is, attributed to him," he says.
This confusion is also subject to the remarks of the foreign diplomatic corps in Egypt who find it a little surprising that there is no clear official statement on the health and trial of Mubarak.
So far neither SCAF nor the office of the prime minister has been making any clear or firm statements on either matter. Official statements are very few, and the bulk of them – on developments in his legal standing – come from the ministry of justice or the office of the prosecutor general. A few more statements have come out of the ministry of health or the office of the director of the Sharm Al-Sheikh Hospital where Mubarak has spent the best part of the last three months; and they are essentially to say he is not dead.
"The fact of the matter is that very few know exactly the details of the health of Mubarak or what will happen to his case," one source at a sovereign institution said. He added that much of the speculation offered in the press every day "lacks accuracy as far as I know – and I cannot claim to have the full picture but I can say that I know that Mubarak's health is not so bad and that the fate of the trial is still subject to debate".
According to this and other sources, Mubarak's attorney has found a safe and solid legal exit to spare his client presence at the court come the planned date of the trial on 3 August. "It is a combination of a medical report and trial procedures that the lawyer of the [toppled] president will depend on," the source suggested.
Meanwhile, at least three official sources agreed that to balance off a possible delay in the trial of Mubarak, other trials have been kick-started – especially that of Habib El-Adly, Mubarak's last minister of interior who is accused of effectively ordering the killing of innocent demonstrators in Tahrir and other places around the country during the early days of the 25 January Revolution.
"You might also see the trial of Mubarak's sons, Alaa and Gamal – but that is still being contested by their lawyers," the aforementioned source added.
As for Mubarak’s health, confusion is likely to reign for longer. "You have to appreciate the fix that SCAF is in – after all Mubarak was the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and he is a hero of the October war, whether you like it or not," said one retired military source.
At the age of 84 Mubarak's health had already been subject to speculation in the last ten years of his three-decade long presidency.
About ten years ago Ibrahim Eissa, by then one of the few daring independent journalists, was sentenced to jail for speculating over Mubarak's declining health – something a court of law equated with spreading of baseless information that had serious economic repercussions, allegedly driving investors to sell their assets at the stock market. Eissa was eventually granted a presidential pardon by Mubarak; but the subject of Mubarak's health became taboo in most independent newspapers.
It was twice announced that Mubarak had surgery, once in 2004 when he went to Munich for an operation on his spine and the other in March 2010 when, during a visit to Germany for a meeting with Chancelor Angela Merkel, it was announced that he medical check-ups led to an operation to remove his gallbladder.
At the time Mubarak's pancreatic cancer was widely spoken of and never officially denied. Mubarak spent close to six weeks in a hospital in Heidelberg before he could return to Egypt for a long convalescence in Sharm El-Sheikh.
By autumn the former president started to resume his routine tasks but was reported to be frail.