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EGYPT: Hosni Mubarak hospitalized after gallbladder surgery, rattling investors

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Concerns about the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been hospitalized for more than a week following gallbladder surgery, sent stocks tumbling earlier this week across the country's financial markets. 

Deciphering the tics and illnesses of the 81-year-old president is a national preoccupation. Mubarak has been in power since 1981, and any trip to the hospital raises rumors on the streets and whispers among businessmen and political opponents that the president is ailing.   

After a fall of 2.40% on Sunday, the stock exchange market's EGX 30 index fell 3.84% by close on Monday to register its lowest rate since December. On Tuesday, after state TV showed the first video of a recovering Mubarak, the market slightly rebounded, up 1.77% at closing.

Mubarak had his gallbladder removed at the Heidelberg University Hospital in Germany. Until Tuesday's video, no recent photographs of the president had been published. Despite reports by the hospital spokesmen and doctors assuring that Mubarak is recovering well, speculation persisted as panicky investors worried that the president's condition was more serious than previously thought.

Before his surgery, Mubarak delegated his presidential tasks to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. Nonetheless, the country's future seems vague if Mubarak dies or is unable to resume his duties. The president's surgery came as talk has mounted about the possible succession of his son, Gamal. Political dynamics have further changed with the return to Egypt of  Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief. Opposition parties would like ElBaradei to run for president in 2011.  

"If anything bad happens to Mubarak, the market will keep on falling until it becomes clear who will take charge of the country and how efficient he will be," says Khaled Abdel Majeed, founder of MENA Capital for investment management.

 It is not the first time Egypt's share prices fell because of worries over the president's health. Similar declines occurred when Mubarak was undergoing back surgery in 2004. Mubarak has yet to announce whether he will seek reelection. 

Mostafa El Sayed, a political analyst, said is convinced that the recent surgery can change the outcome of next year's elections. "If Mubarak nominates himself, the opposition will use his health condition to claim that he is not the best and most capable choice," El Sayed says.

"If he [Mubarak] doesn’t nominate himself, the ruling party will have to decide if Gamal Mubarak will be their candidate or not, but the president's son has neither the ability nor the experience to be the party's nominee," he adds.

No dates have been set yet for Mubarak's return to Egypt from Germany.

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: President Hosni Mubarak. Credit: Agence France-Presse
 

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