He was a beautiful child, dark-eyed and charming, the family’s first grandchild and the apple of his grandfather’s eye. Uncharismatic and often unsmiling, the old man’s face would light up when the little boy entered the room.
Hosni Mubarak, those in the know say, was a nicer person when young Mohamed was around. The firstborn child
of Mubarak’s eldest son, Alaa, Mohamed softened the former Egyptian leader’s heart.
He often featured with his grandfather in official photographs and appears aged two on the cover of Mubarak’s authorised biography.
But in May 2009 tragedy struck – and that, many believe, was when things started to unravel for the man who, until the recent “people’s revolution”, was in charge of the world’s most populous Arab state.
Mohamed had shown no sign of ill health. He was a robust 12-year-old, soccer mad like his father and he worshipped the Egyptian national team. Then one day he complained of a headache after spending the day with his grandmother, Suzanne – Mubarak’s half-Welsh wife.
The next day he slipped into a coma and was rushed to a Paris hospital. All attempts to save the boy’s life were in vain. He died a few days later of a cerebral haemorrhage, devastating the president and plunging Egypt into mourning.
People flooded the streets of Cairo and crowded into Tahrir Square to show solidarity with the first family.
“We are one family and Mubarak is everyone’s father,” one woman said. “We are all mourning today.”
“If the president had stepped down then,” one Egyptian now recalls, “people would have begged him to stay.”
But he didn’t step down – and slowly but surely sympathy and sentimentality turned into disillusionment and anger.
After Mohamed’s death “something changed in Mubarak,” journalist Smadar Peri told Newsweek magazine. “The spark went out of his eyes.”
Although it was widely believed the then 80-year-old president had been grooming his younger son,Gamal, to replace him he appeared to abandon all thought of relinquishing power.
“He had come to believe that no one could replace him,” Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey says. “Not even his son.”
And the vast majority of Egyptians, crippled by unemployment, poverty and a sky-high cost of living that few but the Mubaraks and their super-rich cronies could afford, finally lost it.
Egyptians once again crowded into Tahrir Square – and this time there was no sympathy for Mubarak. “Leave, leave, leave,” they chanted. Eventually he obeyed.
Mubarak and his family have gone into hiding. Some say they are in Britain, others that they are at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, while others believe they are in Dubai after their plane was reportedly seen landing in nearby Sharjah.
Read more about the life of the president and his family in YOU, 24 February 2011.