Babylon & Beyond

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MIDDLE EAST: A sordid entanglement of pop stars, businessmen

September 3, 2008 |  8:13 am


That an Egyptian mogul was arrested and charged in the killing of a sultry Lebanese diva yesterday came as a huge surprise in the Arab world. 

The story, reported in today's Los Angeles Times, drew a lot of attention in part because powerful men with strong political connections are rarely held accountable in the Middle East. But beyond that, the tragic fate of Suzanne Tamim, 30, shed light on the sordid reality of female pop stars in the Middle East.

These young and attractive women often get entangled in love stories with big-shot businessmen, who end up in many cases abusing them or controlling their lives and careers.

Tamim's tangled tale was the epitome of such scenarios.

First as a young talent, after winning a gold medal on a music television show, she was lured into signing an exclusive and exploitative 10-year contract with the producer of the show, according to Hanadi Issa, a music journalist who followed Tamim’s career.

"Suzanne had a great beginning in the music world," said Joe Raad, her hairdresser. "She was beautiful and had a lovely voice. She was innocent and fun. We used to laugh a lot together and imitate other stars."

The singer was only saved from her first constraining deal by signing another, harsher one, with music producer Adel Maatouk, who became her second husband and her manager. And when she wanted to break free from him, Maatouk pressured Arab music production houses into refusing to work with her.

Her affair with Hisham Talaat Mustafa, who was accused of killing her, also ended badly.

"Suzanne also had many problems," Raad said. "Her life was a series of tragedies."

Tamim’s dreadful July 28 killing was not the first such occurrence in the Middle East entertainment world.

Less than five years ago, another Arab singer, Zikra, was murdered in Cairo by her businessman husband who then shot himself.

According to Egyptian media, he had suspected her of cheating on him.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Undated picture of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim, who was found dead in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai in July.

Credit: AFP/STR;

Video: Suzanne Tamim's "Yesa'ab aaleya," or "It's tough for me."

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.