Tamim's murder turns into political drama in Egypt

Egyptians have been gripped by a political drama, drawing attention to the cozy relationship between money and political power in the country.

(FILES) An undated file picture shows Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim posing during a photoshoot in Egypt. Egypt's public prosecutor charged Egyptian tycoon Hisham Talaat Mustafa in connection with the brutal killing of Tamim, state media reported on September 2, 2008. Tamim was found dead in the Gulf emirate of Dubai in July. AFP PHOTO/STR *** Local Caption ***  214885-01-08.jpg
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CAIRO // Egyptians have been gripped by a political drama overshadowing the dozens of television serials airing throughout the month of Ramadan and drawing attention, once more, to the cozy relationship between money and political power in the country. The lead character this time is Hisham Talaat Moustafa, an Egyptian billionaire and prominent figure in the ruling National Democratic Party, who has been charged with paying US$2 million (Dh7.34m) to have Suzan Tamim, a Lebanese singer, brutally murdered.

Ms Tamim, 31, was found dead in the living room of her Dubai apartment on July 28, with multiple knife wounds to her face and body. "The ruling and media men of the National Democratic party are desperately trying to distance themselves from the Hisham Talaat Moustafa case," said Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the opposition daily Al Dustour. "[But] any attempt to separate the ruling party from the scandals of its men will surely fail."

Moustafa, 48, is a prominent member of the NDP's policy committee, which is headed by Gamal Mubarak, the son of Hosni Mubarak, the president, and was chairman of the board of Egypt's largest publicly traded real estate company, which is worth several billion dollars. He is also a member of Egypt's Shura Council and was expected to be the next in line to become housing minister. Moustafa has been charged with ordering and paying Mohsen el Sokari, 39, a former Egyptian state security officer, $2m to kill Tamim, according to Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general. He is currently in custody awaiting trial.

This is just one of a number of cases that have shed light on the marriage between money and power in Egypt. The regime is still reeling from the involvement of Mamdouh Ismail, another Shura Council member, in a ferry tragedy that claimed the lives of around 1,000 Egyptians in Feb 2006. Ismail, the head of the Al Salaam Maritime Transport Company which owned the ferry, fled to London to avoid prosecution after the incident. A court found him innocent in July this year, but after public outrage against the verdict, Mr Mahmoud appealed and a retrial opened last week.

Mohammed Farid Khamis, a prominent businessman and NDP member in parliament, is currently being questioned for allegedly attempting to bribe a judge. "Mamdouh Ismail, Hisham Talaat Moustafa, Mohammed Farid Khamis, and more are coming - the businessmen who are related to the government through membership of the parliament or Shura Council are falling," Mahmoud Mosallam, a member of the NDP, wrote in the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm on Saturday.

"The government must purify itself from the businessmen ? The government has lost from betting on the businessmen and by selling them huge swathes of land at very cheap prices. They just sought protection in its alliance," he wrote. The predominantly state-owned media have tried to play down the cases, both through their coverage and by omission. Pro-government papers like Al Ahram did not even mention the nationality of Moustafa when el Sokari was arrested in Cairo last month.

Mr Mahmoud, too, issued a publishing ban on the case, and last month, copies of Al Dustour newspaper were withdrawn from sale after it reported that "a prominent Egyptian figure" who was "highly influential" was allegedly involved in Tamim's death. Mr Mahmoud later referred the newspaper's managing editor to public prosecutors for breaking the ban. At the same time, state-owned television gave Moustafa a platform on prime time shows to defend himself, which he used to threaten newspapers, which wrote about his involvement in the case, with legal action.

Analysts expressed concern over the state's protection of accused ruling party members and associated businessmen. "Most of the catastrophes that have been inflicted on the country recently have come from the alliance between businessmen and the [NDP's] policy committee, [whose members] present themselves as the new liberals," said Diaa Rashwan, a political analyst. "The political meaning and implications are very dangerous. A group that has no political, cultural or moral reference is running Egypt's affairs. This is pretty scary."

Magdi el Geled, editor of the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm, said the Moustafa case typified Egypt's political establishment and similar cases were likely to follow. "The place of Moustafa's case is not the Criminal Court, it should have been transferred to its rightful place - a political trial for our whole era," he wrote in yesterday's issue. "If we want justice, integrity and transparency, we should punish Hisham and those who stand behind him, who produced him and 10s of others. Enough of fooling the Egyptian people and Egyptians also should stop fooling themselves, otherwise a thousand Hishams will be born daily, as the corrupt womb is still fertile," he wrote.

For the majority of Egyptians, however, such cases simply reinforce their feeling of detachment from the state. "They are playing with money," said Sabah, a middle-aged newspaper seller, at her stand in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. "Paying millions to chase and kill a woman, while we can't feed our kids." nmagd@thenational.ae