CAIRO, Egypt — The news of former President Hosni Mubarak’s possible death rippled through the crowd of patrons at a downtown Cairo café late this evening.
“It’s not true!” one patron shouted of the report. “How many times have we heard this?”
Many of the patrons said the endless rumors of Mubarak's health was only a distraction from the current political upheaval facing the country.
The state-run news agency, MENA, said the 84-year-old former dictator, long suffering from ill-health, was “clinically dead” upon arrival at a military hospital in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Maadi Tuesday night.
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He had reportedly suffered a stroke at Tora prison, where he had served 17 days of a life sentence for failing to prevent the killings of unarmed demonstrators during the popular uprising against his regime last year.
But almost immediately, denials of Mubarak’s death hit the news wires.
Local and foreign journalists, whom have long struggled to obtain access to the secretive leader, tussled with medical definitions to ascertain whether or not the former tyrant was in fact dead.
Did he have a heart attack or a stroke? Did his heart stop or was he brain dead?
More from GlobalPost: What does "clinically dead" mean?
One of the doctors that treated Mubarak told GlobalPost he had “hours to live” on Tuesday night, but did not give any specifics.
Mubarak is said to have been resuscitated several times since he arrived at Tora prison on June 2.
But the rumors and speculation surrounding the reports of his death illustrate the extent to which Egyptians have not only become exhausted with news of Mubarak’s health, but also the level at which they distrust the media.
Conspiracy theories are rife in Egypt, where state-run media outlets churn out pro-regime propaganda, often blaming “invisible” forces for the country’s political, economic and social woes.
At this rooftop café in central Cairo, almost no one believed the reports — nor did they care.
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“I don’t give a damn,” said 26-year-old Hatem Al Degheidy, who said he works in corporate finance. “Politically, the game is different now. As an individual, he no longer has any impact. It’s a distraction.”
Earlier this evening, thousands descended on Tahrir Square to protest moves by Egypt’s military rulers to consolidate power ahead of the inauguration of a new president later this month.
Presidential run-off polls were held on Saturday, and the Muslim Brotherhood has declared its own candidate, Mohamed Morsi, the winner. Official results are expected Thursday.
Following the reports of Mubarak’s poor health, the square emptied late Tuesday night in Cairo.
“I’m suspicious that it’s the regime’s way of creating chaos,” said May Kamel, former social media campaign manager for prominent opposition figure, Mohamed El Baradei. “I think it is a way to make it easier for the government to announce that Shafiq has won.”
Ahmed Shafiq is a former regime official and the country's potential next president.
But it remained unclear whether or not reports of Mubarak’s death — or comatose state — would in fact generate sympathy for those associated with his regime.
“If he’s gone, things will be easier for us — and we can go after his sons,” said Tarek Nawar, a waiter at the café. Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are also in Tora prison awaiting trial on charges of insider trading.
Many Egyptians view the sons as particularly corrupt.
“But everyone thinks he will live,” Nawar said. “He played squash when he was 80 [years old]. If I did that, I would die.”
Heba Habib contributed reporting from Cairo, Egypt