CAIRO - Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out across Egypt late Tuesday to protest recent moves by the country’s ruling generals, as conflicting reports about the health of former president Hosni Mubarak injected new uncertainty into a tumultuous political moment.
Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades, suffered a stroke and was declared “clinically dead’’ late Tuesday, the state news agency said, but that report was quickly denied by a medical official at the hospital where Mubarak was being treated and by one of his attorneys.
The former president was “conscious and breathing well,’’ the medical official said early Wednesday. Mubarak, 84, arrived at the hospital under cardiac arrest, the official said, and doctors got his heart beating again using a defibrillator. By midnight, he was resting in a suite, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
As rumors of Mubarak’s death spread, fireworks crackled across the capital, and a crowd that had gathered earlier in Tahrir Square, the center of the revolt that ousted Mubarak in February 2011, remained large and energetic.
The protesters, heeding a call from the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, were making a show of force against the generals, whose recent moves have sparked fears of a return to authoritarian rule. The rallies represent an effort to demonstrate that the loose revolutionary coalition that brought down Mubarak has not run out of steam, even as the military chiefs appear to be broadening their authority and emasculating the presidency, probably fearful of the implications of serving under an Islamist statesman.
Officials from the campaign of the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, on Tuesday presented local-level polling records that they said showed he had defeated opponent Ahmed Shafik by about 900,000 votes in the weekend runoff. The campaign said it obtained the records from local election officials.
But supporters of Shafik, who was Mubarak’s last prime minister and is widely thought to have the backing of the ruling generals, continued to insist Tuesday that he had won the election. A campaign spokesman said at a news conference that Shafik received 51.5 percent of the vote, calling Morsi’s assertion of victory false. Official results are expected Thursday.
The public response to the military’s constitutional decree late Sunday that weakened the presidency, and to a court ruling last week that mandated the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated Parliament, has been peaceful. But protesters warned Tuesday that it could change.
“If they want it to be Syria, we’ll give them Libya,’’ protesters chanted in Tahrir Square, which was packed after sunset, as the searing summertime heat subsided.
Salama el-Bahnssawy, 52, traveled to Tahrir from Ismailia, a city along the Suez Canal, with his 5-year-old son, Ziyad. He said he was particularly upset by the dissolution of Parliament and said the large crowd, one of the biggest to gather this year, would put pressure on the generals.
“We’ve changed many things from the square,’’ he said. “This is not the first time.’’
Mubarak’s health was long treated as a state secret while he was in power. Since he was deposed, reports about his declining health have been met with skepticism by many Egyptians, who view such news as ploys to gain sympathy and leniency.
Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison June 2 for his role in the death of protesters during last year’s popular revolt, and the Middle East News Agency has said that his health took a turn for the worse after he was remanded to Tora prison to serve his sentence.
Late Tuesday, the news agency said that Mubarak’s heart stopped after he arrived at a military hospital in the upscale Cairo district of Maadi and that efforts to resuscitate him failed.
But Yosri Abdel Razek, an attorney for Mubarak who said he was at the hospital where Mubarak was treated, said in a phone interview early Wednesday that the former president was recovering in a suite at a military hospital. “He’s not dead,’’ the lawyer said. “Not clinically or otherwise.’’
Earlier Tuesday, the U.S.-based Carter Center, one of a handful of international groups accredited to monitor the presidential runoff, expressed alarm at the dissolution of Parliament and the military’s decree, saying they threatened to mar an election that appears to have been procedurally sound.
“I am deeply troubled by the undemocratic turn that Egypt’s transition has taken,’’ former US president Jimmy Carter said in a statement. “An unelected military body should not interfere in the constitution drafting process.’’
Carter’s criticism echoed concerns voiced in recent days by US officials, who worry that a power grab by the military council that took power after Mubarak’s ouster could abort the country’s transition to democracy and trigger new unrest.