It was a stunning sentence in a case that shocked the Arab world: Egyptian billionaire Hisham Talaat Moustafa was condemned to death in the murder of his pop star lover Suzan Tamim.
The Lebanese beauty was killed last summer in her Dubai apartment by Muhsen el-Sukkari, a former security guard accused of taking $2 million from Moustafa to stab Tamim to death.
Sukkari was also given the death sentence by an Egyptian court on Thursday, the final episode of a trial closely watched throughout the Middle East. It was a trial that said a billionaire with tight political connections could not get away with murder, contrary to public expectations that the rules are suspended when broken by the ruling class.
The court session quickly turned chaotic with police and Moustafa's relatives clashing with reporters scrambling for a reaction from the defendants to the verdict. Moustafa's two daughters burst into tears after the verdict, and his sister fainted. "This verdict is cruel," Sameer el-Shishtawi, one of Moustafa's lawyers told reporters outside the southern Cairo court. He said he would appeal and was confident the verdict would be overturned. Both men had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Moustafa's trial marked the demise of one of the country's most prominent businessmen. Over the past decade, he became one of Egypt's wealthiest men, building a real estate empire that included luxury hotels and resorts. He was also a leading force behind the rise of the pricey Western-style suburbs that ring Cairo.
The arrest and indictment of Moustafa, also a member of Egypt's upper house of parliament closely linked to President Hosni Mubarak, shocked Egypt, where high-level officials are rarely publicly held accountable for their crimes.
One attorney close to the case told ABC News Egyptian authorities indicted Moustafa only under intense pressure from Dubai, whose ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had promised the victim's family that the murder would not go unpunished.
Egyptian newspapers were initially banned from covering the case, but authorities overturned that ban. Pro-government papers cited the case as evidence that no one in Egypt is above the law. This week authorities announced the trial would be televised live when it opened -- an unprecedented public hearing.
At the trial, authorities pointed to security footage of El-Sukkary in Dubai, blood-soaked clothes that were found dumped outside the building and the knife he used to slash Tamim's throat as evidence. In Tamim's Aisha Bakkar middle-class Muslim district of Beirut, a picture of the slain singer hung above the door of the family's ground floor residence. Najib Liyan, who identified himself as the family's lawyer, told APTN he was "grateful for the verdict."
"We had no doubt about justice," Liyan said. Still, he added, "no one can be happy about death, whether it is a crime or a death sentence."
The Tragic Life of a Slain Pop Princess
Suzan Tamim is the face behind the crime that shook the Middle East.
Pictures of Suzan, who was 30 at the time of her death, show a sultry pop star with a commanding presence, her talent bathed in sensuality. What they failed to capture was a woman who friends say never had control of her own life, because she never freed herself from the men who controlled her.
"Suzan was the victim of her beauty," friend and stylist Joe Raad told ABC News.
In the Tamim family home in Beirut, a grand, if run-down French mandate-era house, Abed al-Sattar Tamim recalls his daughter's musical beginnings: as a toddler Suzan was the neighborhood doll, singing religious music for family and friends.
Tamim grew into a teenage beauty queen, admired and desired by men but sheltered by her conservative Muslim family. Picnics, trips to the beach and, crucially, encounters with boys, were under her father's careful eye.
"She lived a full life but under my auspices," said Tamim's father. "I sometimes regret that I was over-protective as she was growing up."
Under that protection Suzan developed a quick trust in people, particularly men. As a college student at Beirut Arab University, she met and married a classmate, Ali Mouzannar. In 1996, soon after the two eloped, Suzan won a competition called "Studio Al Fan," a televised talent show akin to "American Idol." Her music was a hit, Suzan a new entry in Lebanon's long roster of singing starlets.
The success worried her conservative father, uncomfortable with his daughter's beauty on display within the highly sexualized world of music entertainment.
"I often used to pray that she wouldn't win," said Tamim's father.
"My daughter was beautiful and she had a beautiful voice, but I didn't want her to follow this path. I wanted her to get a good education, get married, to have a normal life in the midst of her family."
But Suzan wanted to sing. Fame and marriage would liberate her, to a point. She moved out of her family home, dropped out of school, and had Mouzannar start managing her career. The newlyweds had a troubled relationship over time, Mouzannar wanted more control over her movements.
"Problems started between him and her family, why he didn't want to divorce her," said Hanadi Issa, a journalist who knew Tamim and her first husband.
"To him she was a business, a possession," said Khalil Tamim, Suzan's soft-spoken brother.
With her career tied up in her marriage, Suzan called for help. Her family brought her home and helped her file for divorce. But the experience, says her father, set her on a confused path of failed relationships. Rather than confront problems, she would run from them and toward the next man.
Suzan's next step would lead to Adel Maatouk, a well-connected music producer who took her on as a client and helped shake off her ties to Mouzannar.
"Maatouk was a way out, so she took it. Then they got married and the problems began," said journalist Hanadi Issa.
Maatouk became Suzan's second manager-husband. He flew her to Paris to perform at his club, L'Oscar Elysee, known for its Middle Eastern ambience and entertainment. Suzan pressed through concerts and recordings, building on her fan base from Studio Al Fan.
But, according to her family, Suzan chafed as her husband became increasingly possessive. With her family's help she moved away from Maatouk. Tamim's family says the two were divorced, though Maatouk insists they remained married up to the time of Tamim's death. Al Bawaba, a regional news source, reported in 2003 that Tamim was granted a divorce by an Islamic scholar, but that Maatouk refused to recognize the religious ruling. A Tamim family lawyer says the question is being settled in court, the answer playing heavily into who controls Suzan Tamim's estate.
A Relationship Soured, Tamim Feared for Her Life
What is clear in the public eye was the bitter fighting between Maatouk and the Tamim family. The jilted husband filed more than a dozen lawsuits against Tamim, cases that made tabloid headlines.
Tamim's troubled personal life broadly overshadowed her music. With Maatouk in control of her recording contract, her career came to a halt. Local newspapers reported that as Tamim traveled to Syria and Egypt Maatouk tried to bar her from performing, claiming breach of contract with his production house, Arab European Record Company. She moved to Cairo, where a powerful media executive introduced her to Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a billionaire politician and real estate mogul whose high-end properties include the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo, her lawyer and parents said.
"Someone had given her Moustafa as a contact and told her if she ever needed anything in Egypt then to get in touch," Tamim's father said.
"She went to Maatouk to get rid of Mouzanner, then to Talaat Moustafa to get rid of Maatouk," he said.
Joe Raad, Tamim's friend and stylist, traveled to see her in Cairo. At that point Tamim described Moustafa as a patron, one who could help her finalize the break with Maatouk.
"She saw in him the person who could protect her and the person who could remove her from her problems. I think that's why she got involved with Talaat," said Raad.
"When Talaat met Suzan she enamored him and he wanted to marry here and there are those who say that they [had a temporary marriage], some who say his family didn't allow it. She died and took her secrets with her," said Issa, based on her reporting on the Tamim case.
Tamim's family would not clarify the extent of Tamim's relationship with Moustafa, saying it tied into the murder trial. If Tamim and Moustafa had a temporary marriage -- a less permanent, but still formal marriage contract in Islam, it would have made any sexual relations between them "bil halal," meaning it wasn't sinful.
A Tamim family lawyer did confirm that Tamim and Moustafa were "friends" and made it clear that, over time, their relations soured. Tamim's stylist, Joe Raad, says she became increasingly paranoid and started traveling with a bodyguard.
"She was full of fear and anxiety. She had a feeling that something was going to happen to her. She would always tell me 'I'm afraid,'" said Raad.
"Through her manner I could tell that Moustafa was not just a jealous man, but more than that -- possessive, but extremely generous."
Issa said she visited Tamim her home in Egypt, a high-security house in Cairo's affluent Dokki district.
"She was living in a very well-protected area," said Issa. "She was scared of being followed. She was afraid."
"As I was leaving, I told her, 'Why do you keep getting yourself into these situations? Stop letting [men] use you like this.' She told me that this was the last time, that she would finish with her problems and restart her career."
Tamim left Cairo and moved to London. She met Riad Alazzawi, a British-Iraqi kick boxer who met Tamim in Harrod's department store. The two became close and married - a lawyer for Alazzawi told ABC News the two had a marriage certificate from a British court.
Alazzawi says the couple was harassed and receiving threatening phone calls - threats he believe came from Hisham Talaat Moustafa, angry that Tamim had left Egypt.
"I'll Kill Her and Kill You if You Don't Give Me the Girl"
"Suzan told me that he had phoned her and said that if she left me and went to marry him he would pay her $50 million. He then said that if she refused he would then kill her." Alazzawi told the Sunday Times, a statement confirmed by Alazzawi's lawyer.
On another occasion, Alazzawi said he received a phone call from Moustafa himself.
"He said forget about this girl. I'll kill her and kill you if you don't give me the girl," Alazzawi alleged.
A representative with Moustafa's company, Talaat Moustafa Group, refused to comment on the charges or on any matter related to the Tamim case. In a letter from his jail cell, Moustafa denounced his accusers and the reporters covering the case.
"These lies will not be able to move the great pyramids I have constructed in the Egyptian economy," Moustafa wrote.
Tamim spent eighteen months living in London with Alazzawi. In 2007 the two jointly purchased an apartment in Rimal Tower, part of a luxury residential complex in Dubai . Eight months later, on July 28, Tamim was stabbed to death in the apartment.
Dubai Police told reporters her killer got through security by posing as Tamim's real estate agent, coming to finalize her paperwork.
Five hours after the crime, Dubai Police arrested a former Egyptian police officer, Mohsen Al Sukkari, and charged him with the crime. Investigators in Egypt told the press that while in custody, Al Sukkari confessed to killing Tamim and claimed he did so at Hisham Talaat Moustafa's behest. In return Moustafa would pay him $2 million. Moustafa was arrested, the two held in jail until trial.
As it unfolds the Tamim case reflects the rules and realities of the Middle East. Lebanon: a place of beauty, turmoil, and contradictions, where a sultry singer can flaunt her sexuality yet be confined by the rule of men in her conservative Muslim circle. Dubai: a fast-paced city publicly committed to the rule of law. Egypt: a country where power brokers dominate society and where rule of law is normally trumped by rule of "wastah" -- Arabic for the influence that money and power can buy.
As Moustafa and Sukkari face the death penalty, Tamim's family says they can't shake the feeling that beauty and fame killed Suzan along with a tendency to trust the wrong people.
"All the people she trusted just wanted to use her and that is what brought her here," said her father.
"She didn't realize that she was living in a forest, a forest of wolves and beasts. Her faith and her kindheartedness made her think that people were angels, while in fact they were beasts."
Issa, the journalist and Tamim acquaintance, agrees it was the path she took that killed her.
"There is a headline that was in an Egyptian magazine that read, 'Suzan Tamim: A woman killed by ambition and trodden on by men,'" said Issa.
Tamim's grandmother had another take on the starlet's tragedy. Teary as she stood in the Tamim living room, facing a tribute of flowers and photos, she repeated an Arabic proverb that roughly translates, "pretty girls have no luck."
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.