Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was treated last year for cancer in his gallbladder and pancreas, and may be suffering a recurrence that spread to his stomach, his defense lawyer said Monday. However, two senior Egyptian medical officials _ one of them the head of Mubarak's team of doctors _ said he does not have the disease.
Mubarak, 83, has been hospitalized since early April. He is set to face trial in August on charges he ordered the killings of protesters during the 18-day uprising that ousted him on Feb. 11. A conviction could carry the death penalty and activists suspect he may be using health problems as a ruse to sway public opinion and perhaps even win amnesty.
Ever since Mubarak traveled to Germany early last year for medical treatment, it has been widely rumored that he has cancer. But his health was a closely guarded secret, and the cancer was never spoken of publicly until now _ two months before he is slated to go on trial.
Mubarak's lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, said the ousted president underwent "critical surgery" in Heidelberg, Germany, last year to remove his gallbladder and part of his pancreas, which were cancerous.
"There is evidence suggesting that there is a recurrence of cancer and that it has reached the stomach," el-Deeb told The Associated Press. He called Mubarak's condition "horrible" and said the former leader "doesn't eat and he loses consciousness quite often." Mubarak is in the hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where he has been living since his ouster.
The lawyer said that the possible recurrence could stem from Mubarak's skipping medical checkups in Germany that should have taken place every four months. Mubarak has been banned from traveling outside the country since February.
"This led to complications," the lawyer said.
However Assem Azzam, the head of Mubarak's medical team in the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital, told The Associated Press: "All medical checkups show that he doesn't have cancer. This is not true at all."
"His condition in general is stable," he added.
Another top medical official in the Sharm hospital confirmed that Mubarak is only suffering from heart troubles.
"He is not even inside intensive care. He is in a normal room," the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Mubarak's purported health issues have complicated efforts to bring him to trial. He was hospitalized on the day prosecutors trying to build a case against him sought to question the former leader for the first time.
Prosecutors have questioned him in the hospital, but an order to transfer him to a Cairo prison during the investigation was overturned on the grounds that the prison health facilities were inadequate to treat him. A report by a government-appointed panel of physicians determined in May that Mubarak is too ill to be held in prison while awaiting trial.
That report said Mubarak was suffering from heart troubles and confirmed he had "tumors" in his pancreas removed. But it did not specify whether the tumors were malignant. It also said that Mubarak can't leave his bed without assistance.
El-Deeb said he presented Egypt's prosecutor general a second comprehensive medical report on Thursday showing that Mubarak is suffering from a recurrence of cancer. El-Deeb declined to provide a copy to the AP.
Reports about Mubarak's health are a highly politicized issue because his trial is unprecedented in the history of modern Egypt.
"For the first time, we have an Egyptian president who has been charged and who will stand trial. This has created a politically charged climate," said Nasser Amin, a legal expert and rights advocate. He said el-Deeb's publicizing Mubarak's alleged cancer borders on "influencing public opinion."
Youth groups have warned that granting Mubarak amnesty would only spark a new revolution.
In May, an Egyptian paper ran an unconfirmed report that the Egyptian military rulers were considering doing just that in return for an apology to the nation for any wrongdoing.
The report sparked a public outcry and a mass protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square _ the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution. The demonstration was dubbed the "Friday to reject the apology." That forced the country's military rulers to issue a denial and distance themselves from Mubarak's trial.
Mubarak has been charged with conspiring with the former security chief and other senior police officers _ already on trial in a criminal court _ "to commit premeditated murder, along with attempted murder of those who participated in the peaceful protests around Egypt."
The charges say Mubarak and the other officials were involved in "inciting some policemen and officers to shoot the victims, running some of them over to kill them, and terrorizing others."
At least 846 protesters were killed during the revolt.
Mubarak's sons, Alaa and Gamal, have been held in Cairo's Tora prison since mid-April while they are investigated on charges ranging from corruption and squandering public funds to ordering the violent suppression of anti-government demonstrations.
For years, Mubarak's health was a tightly guarded secret, and each flare-up threw the country into uncertainty because there was no clear successor.
Following Mubarak's surgery in Germany last year, Egypt's government said that doctors removed benign tumors from his gallbladder. Egyptian state TV also broadcast footage of Mubarak speaking to his doctors in an attempt to assure Egyptians that his condition was stable.
The president's health was such a taboo topic that in 2008, the editor in chief of an Egyptian daily was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting Mubarak after he reported about the president's health. Mubarak later pardoned him.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report from El-Arish, Egypt.