Ousted ruler chooses to lick wounds at his villa on the Red Sea

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The Independent Online

Hosni Mubarak has chosen, for the time being at least, not to leave his homeland but go into internal exile at his villa in Sharm el-Sheikh, according to reports coming from Egypt yesterday.

As crowds celebrated outside his official Cairo residence, the Uruba Palace, the fallen leader was believed to be already on his way to the Red Sea resort. Mr Mubarak will be licking his wounds at a place where he has spent a lot of time relaxing and meeting foreign dignitaries. In the past year he has hosted, among others, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; the head of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas; and Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu. Another of his guests was Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister not long before the country's president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown, starting the upheavals in the regions.

The complex at Sharm el-Sheikh is heavily guarded; local people have little knowledge of what goes on behind the high walls. For days there have been rumours that the beleaguered former president was already at the resort. In reality he had, in fact, been fighting his losing battle in Cairo.

It is not just the villa and its adjacent building in Sharm where Mr Mubarak has vested interests. The former first family is also said to have financial stakes in hotels and holiday homes at the resort. The assets of the ex-leader, his wife, Suzanne, and two sons, Gamal and Alaa, remain under their control for the time being in Egypt, unlike the widespread looting of the property of Ben Ali in Tunisia.

However, much of the Mubarak family's estimated $70bn wealth is abroad, and yesterday the Swiss government announced that it was freezing bank accounts associated with the former Egyptian president. According to unconfirmed reports, some of these are at UBS while, it is also claimed, he has money deposited with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Just how long Mr Mubarak can stay in Sharm el-Sheikh depends on how safe he feels. If moves get under way to charge him for alleged offences during his time in office, then the former president may well decide to seek refuge abroad.

Suzanne Mubarak holds a British passport; Gamal has a large house in London's Belgravia, and there were reports, which proved to be incorrect, that mother and son are already in the UK. However, they are Anglophiles and Britain, or another Western country, is said to be their preferred destination, rather than Saudi Arabia, where Ben Ali ended up after being refused entry by France. There are lavish residences in Los Angeles, New York and Washington should the Mubaraks try their luck in America.

An appeal from Mr Mubarak for refuge status in the UK or the US would place the respective governments in a difficult position. He had been feted for helping to keep 30 years of relative peace in the Middle East by maintaining peace treaties with Israel and there could be unease at abandoning him at such a time. However, for Mr Mubarak and his family, moving to the West brings with it the prospect of future extradition.

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