For 30 years, Hosni Mubarak was portrayed as the “Father of the Nation”, a war hero, a man of peace and development – images shattered by a revolution, a historic trial and a hospital gurney.
Now, his fall from grace is being accentuated by ongoing news of his poor health – reports that have given fodder to the rumour mill.
But do Egyptians believe the news? Do they even care?
In Tahrir Square, where people gathered on Tuesday night to protest against recent moves by the ruling military council to expand its power, there was both celebration and scepticism.
For more than a year, Egyptians have been told that the former president’s health is declining. The 84-year-old even appeared in court on a hospital stretcher.
When his trial began – on charges of corruption and complicity in the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising – the scene of the once omnipotent leader lying down became the subject of much ridicule.
What some called an apparent attempt to elicit public sympathy had backfired, with comparisons being drawn between Mubarak and Iraq’s late dictator Saddam Hussein, who not only walked to his trial, but also repeatedly defied the court.
For the protesters in Tahrir, differentiating between fact and propaganda was not immediately possible. Many questioned the timing of Mubarak’s declining health, despite the fact that for weeks there had been reports that he was acutely depressed after being sentenced to life in prison earlier this month.
Cynics feel that as the country remains embroiled in uncertainty amid a contentious presidential race, this is an opportune moment for the ruling Mubarak-era generals to transfer their former commander-in-chief to a more comfortable confinement – from the ill-equipped prison hospital to a military medical facility.
After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Mubarak is given preferential treatment – during his trial, he was kept in a private suite at the leafy and luxurious, military-affiliated International Medical Centre.
Some protesters fear even worse motives: Using Mubarak’s ailing health to distract the public’s attention from the protests against the military and the ongoing political turmoil.
Egyptians are known for being emotional (and this is arguably one of the reasons it took them so long to rise against Mubarak). So there will surely be a tear or two shed if the deposed leader dies.
Officially, he’s not expected to get a state funeral and sources say he will be buried privately in the family cemetery in Cairo.
For many people though, Mubarak’s death is no longer an issue in itself. In fact, many critics have lambasted the media for running daily reports about his health after he was sentenced.
The real issue, they feel, is that even if Mubarak is gone, his legacy and tactics continue to live on, best manifested in the country’s current political landscape.
More than a year after the revolution that ended his rule, the presidential race is between his last prime minister and a representative of his regime’s longtime rivals – the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile: the military is more powerful than ever the police force was never held to account for abuses and many Egyptians continue to suffer.