By Khaled Dawoud
Washington correspondent for Al Ahram
Egyptians were glued to their television screens for nearly 50 minutes last week as state-owned channels interrupted their live broadcast while President Hosni Mubarak was addressing a new parliamentary session.
President Mubarak was sweating and wiping his face with a handkerchief.
Mubarak is well known on the world stage
The camera of the state-owned television zoomed out as Mubarak stood at the podium clearly exhausted, and seconds later, it tilted to show the fixed picture of the Egyptian flag.
Ten minutes later, Egyptian television resumed its live broadcast, showing the country's highest Islamic religious authority, Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and Pope Shenouda, Patriarch of the Coptic Christian church, praying to God to "save Mubarak".
Members of the ruling national Democratic Party who control more than 90% of parliament, all responded with enthusiasm: "Amen".
Never a smoker or a drinker, there have been few reports that the country's leader has ever suffered from any health problems.
When President Mubarak returned to the podium he was given a heroes welcome by his loyal MPs.
He then resumed his speech, though it was cut short.
Egypt's leader, a former pilot and commander of the Egyptian Air Forces, has built himself a reputation as a fit man who leads a healthy life.
Born in 1928 in a small village at Menofya province near Cairo, he insists on keeping his private life out of the public domain.
Married to a half-British graduate of the American University in Cairo, Suzanne Mubarak, and with two sons, Gamal and Alaa, the Egyptian president is known to lead a strict life with fixed daily schedule that starts at 0600.
His predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by Islamic extremists, and Mubarak, vice president at that time, was lucky to escape the shots as he sat next to the late president during a military parade.
THE GREAT SURVIVOR
Former Air Force commander
Became president in 1981
Survived 6 attempts on life
No vice president
No democratic elections
Grooming his son
During his time in power, Mubarak has survived at least six assassination attempts.
The narrowest escape took place shortly after his arrival in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in 1995 to attend an African summit, when his limousine came under attack.
Close associates sometimes complain of the president's schedule, which often begins with a work out in the gym or a game of squash.
Despite affirmations by Egyptian government officials that the president simply suffered a heavy flu "which anybody could suffer", the thorny issue of Mubarak's possible successor quickly re-emerged.
Since he took over power, Mubarak refused to appoint a vice president, unlike his predecessors who were also army officers.
In recent years, the Egyptian leader has reportedly been grooming his son, Gamal, to take over power.
The 40-year-old graduate of an American university, suddenly rose to high ranks within the ruling party, and accompanied his father on all his external official trips.
Although President Mubarak denies he wants his son to inherit him, many Egyptians are sceptical.
But some analysts believe Mubarak's successor has to come from the army, which remains the most powerful institution in Egypt, and has been the custom since the army overthrew the monarchy in 1952.
Although a few fear chaos in Egypt once Mubarak's rule comes to an end, the incident in parliament last week has also renewed demands by opposition parties to press for more democratic reforms.
Mubarak has run unopposed in four referendums to renew his presidency, and has won with at least a 96% majority each time.
Opposition parties have been pressing to change the system, demanding multi-presidential elections. But so far, President Mubarak has repeatedly rejected this.