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French Version

Amr Diab heads richest Arab pop stars list

Six Lebanese performers make the top 10 but Haifa is not one of them

"Money, money, money," sang Swedish pop quartet Abba 20 years ago. Their song was a cheesy, catchy take on the rich material world of the late 20th century but of course it was a song that helped them and the music industry to make a lot of that very commodity - money.

Cynical perhaps, but if it's big bucks you are after today in the Arab world - and in Lebanon with its depressed economy and approximately $35 billion public debt - your best bet for incomparable riches is pop music stardom.

Of the top 10 richest Arab music stars six are Lebanese - Haifa's earnings it seems are not enough for her to make the list - and only Fairuz and Marcel Khalife are not known for their chaabi pop anthems and actually have some serious music going on.

A survey published recently in Arabian Business magazine reveals that Fairouz is the second wealthiest music star in the Arab world with total career earnings estimated at $34 million and is only narrowly beaten by Egyptian heart throb, Amr Diab, with $37 million.

$37 million is a huge figure - though in the United Kingdom for instance it would only put him at 25th among the pop music industry's highest earners. According to the survey, Diab's prolific recording career makes him the Arab world's best-selling artist, as he set the standard and raised the bar for Arab music sales. He generates $20 million directly from record sales in the Arab world, and the rest comes from tours and sponsorship deals across the globe.

Now what would you do with all that cash. If you're Diab you move into politics. It's true. Diab is hoping to cross over into the realm of national government as London-based Arabic newswire Elaph reported yesterday that the singer would run for elections in the Egyptian Parliament immediately after the presidential elections take place in September. He should make the announcement in the coming few days Elaph said. Diab has apparently already begun his new political campaign by going back to his hometown to try and win over the support of local people there. The singer is banking on his fame amongst the youth to defeat former Parliament members and be elected.

And why not? After all he is more loved than most and more recognizable. How much does he know of politics? Does it matter? He's got the cash, you see. With stirrings of political and electoral reform in Egypt, could we be looking at a future day when Amr Diab becomes president of Egypt? His deputy could be the third richest star Hani Shaker also from Egypt who has earned a mammoth $32 million.

Now if by any chance Lebanon could get a new premier one of these days the country could do a lot worse than have a stylish, beautiful and rich woman in the top job. If not Fairouz, what about Elissa. At fourth wealthiest in Arabian Business magazine's survey with $31.5 million in earnings, she could charm world leaders with songs and dedicate cash to good causes in the country. Bill Clinton in part won his presidency by charming the electorate with his saxophone playing when he appeared on "The Arsenio Hall Show" and blasted out two songs in 1992. And everybody loved Bill!

The next Lebanese millionaire is the legendary oud player and singer Marcel Khalife, who in seventh place has wealth of $18.3 million. He is behind a favorite crooner among Lebanese fans, the Syrian Georges Wassouf with $27 million and the much loved Iraqi singer Kazem al-Saher with $22 million.

Perhaps they might take up politics in their own countries too. To be sure they would make strong candidates - Saher with his message of love and Khalife on his platform of peace. For a moment just imagine a President Wassouf of Syria or a President Khalife of Lebanon or even a President Saher of Iraq.

They have the necessary cash to launch a political campaign. Go further and imagine, at a stretch, an Arab president's summit in Cairo hosted by President Diab with special concert performances for the public.

With Fairouz as the grande dame of the region and the new young pretenders to her crown as leading ambassadors - the young starlets who fill up the rest of the top 10 richest pop stars, Nancy Ajram in eighth place with $16.2 million, Ragheb Alami at nine with $14.5 million and Najwa Karam bringing up the rear with $13 million - let the musical festivities begin.

But alas it is rare that music and politics mix and it's probably a bit much to hope that Diab with his millions and decision to take up the political gauntlet might start off a trend in the Arab world for pop stars getting into politics. Then again you never know. After all if an Austrian former body builder and action movie star can become governor of California in the United States, the sky's the limit as they say. "Money, money, money ... "

Ramsay Short
The Daily Star

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