While the stories of his death were exaggerated, the question of who will replace the 79-year-old president is also becoming ever more pressing. His son, Gamal Mubarak, is the clear front-runner.

There will be some in the upper reaches of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party who might feel they deserve a chance at the top job. The armed forces also have a critical role to play, having provided the country with all its previous presidents. And while many opposition groups and leaders have been jailed or exiled, a change of leader could give them a chance to reassert themselves.

But the contest is Gamal’s to lose. The real problem for Egypt is the lack of credible alternatives. The political landscape Mubarak has ruled over since 1981 has failed to produce any viable rival candidates. Any who looked like they might have reached a strong position have been persuaded to retire from public life or appointed to lowly positions. The lack of competing ideas will not be healthy for Egypt in the long term. In the shorter term its neighbours to the west, particularly the Gaddafi family, are sure to be watching closely.