Bloody Deed in Dubai: The Death of a Pop Princess

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

After Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim was stabbed to death in her Dubai apartment, clues led back to the most elevated economic and political circles in Egypt. The murder is a story of sex, violence, glamor and secrets.

She was most comfortable in the spotlight, but made her fair share of appearances in courtrooms and police stations. She was famous for her voice, but also for her parade of lovers. She was popular, but truly loved by only a few. Suzanne Tamim's life, which came to a violent end in July, had the elements of a fairy tale, but its end belonged in a penny dreadful. And it certainly isn't a story to tell the kids before bedtime.

Tamim was 31 when she opened the door to her luxury high-rise apartment in the Dubai Marina quarter in late July. Twelve minutes later, she was dead.

Her murderer did not stop at slitting her throat. In a bloodthirsty frenzy, he attacked her body with a knife, leaving dozens of stab wounds and nearly decapitating her, according to a Dubai police report.

Then the killer slipped out of his bloodied clothes, pulled his hat down over his face to evade security cameras, and cleared out. Only 90 minutes after the deed, Tamim's suspected murderer caught a flight to Cairo.

"Clear evidence" at the Crime Scene

The suspect would never have been apprehended if he hadn't left "clear evidence" at the scene of the crime, a police spokesperson said without saying what that clue might have been. The evidence led investigators to a suspect, who in turn led police to the man who allegedly contracted the killing -- a stupendously rich Egyptian businessman said to be Tamim's former lover. The singer's case took on a new dimension.

At first, the businessman's name was bandied about on major talk shows on Egyptian television. Established newspapers like the English-language Daily Star in Lebanon reported the rumors, writing that the alleged murderer was the bodyguard for the owner of numerous luxury hotels.

The open speculation didn't last long. Egypt's head public prosecutor quickly muzzled the press, forbidding reports on any possible connection between the murder victim and the businessman, a member of the upper house of the Egyptian parliament.

The rumor mill kept churning, though. The man's company, which markets hotels and resorts, quickly lost market value -- the stock price slump stemming from persistent media coverage of the chairman, a trader at Cairo's stock exchange told Reuters.

When Tamim's alleged murderer was found dead in his prison cell 10 days later, newspapers and television programs outside of Egypt began an orgy of breathless speculation. Had the alleged killer been eliminated to protect the identity of his contractor? Some Arab tabloids reported the hit man had confessed to receiving a million dollars for the killing. Others were sure it was two million.

Sexy and Playful

Suzanne Tamim got her break in 1996 as a competitor on a TV talent show in her homeland, Lebanon. The 19-year-old proved adept at both pop numbers and classical Middle Eastern styles and won the final round -- the start, it would seem, of a typical Arab pop star.

Lebanese singers are one of the main products this small Mediterranean country exports to the Arab world. Lebanese women are considered unreserved and many find Levantine accents attractive. Singers from Lebanon are the equivalent of French acts in the eyes of Germans: sexy, playful, and a little raunchy.

At the outset Tamim did what was necessary for success in the high rolling Arabic music business. A few surgeries gave her the cat eyes and large breasts that seem necessary for a career in Middle Eastern showbiz.

She released two CDs and had a number of hit singles, always variations on the same saccharine sigh. "Habibi" -- the lovers -- made repeated appearances in her songs. But the lovers in Tamim's own life changed rapidly, a fact that may have contributed to her untimely death.

Lurid Fascination

Tamim was married twice during her short life. Her second marriage -- to her manager -- broke apart to great media fanfare, and audiences began showing more interest in scandal than in her music. It was a lurid fascination, similar to that of fans who keep tabs on Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse to see what they'll get up to next.

The singer fled to Cairo to escape her husband, who, as her manager, had her under a 10-year contract. There she met the Egyptian businessman who took her under his wing, according to Arabic tabloid Web site Elaph. Particulars of the relationship between the two are still hard to pin down. Copies of an independent Egyptian newspaper that identified the pair in barely veiled hints was removed from kiosks upon publication 10 days ago.

Arab television shows surmise that the affair between the pop princess and Egyptian real estate mogul ended in a spat some eight months ago. Tamim had packed her bags and returned to Dubai, according to the gossip on programs from Baghdad to Abu Dhabi. Her house cleaner found the singer dead on July 28.

A Much Darker Fate

There are a number of reasons that gossip reporters across the Arab world continue to report on Suzan Tamim's story. First of all, one of the most powerful men in Egypt may be complicit. And he is unlikely to be even questioned in connection with the crime -- a fact that enrages many.

Tamim's is the latest variation on the age-old theme of class hatred: those on high can do what they please. The rich can even murder the daughters of the poor, and get away with it.

And many see the story's moral lesson as difficult to ignore. Indeed, the singer's life history has already passed into the annals of modern Arab myth. A young woman gets a big break, flouts convention, puts herself in the spotlight and dies as a result.

For parents and educators from the Persian Gulf to the Nile Delta, this is a potentially useful tale. They can use it to teach young women that insubordinate girls don't end up marrying the prince. Instead they meet a much darker fate.

The fairy tale with a penny-dreadful ending.

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