Zooming In

June 2, 2009

Beautiful Breasts and Bloodthirsty Billionaires

The rich prey on the poor, a Russian child is raised like a pet, and advances for female politicians around the world in this edition of Zooming In.

Joe Horton

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.



At first glance, the Daily News of Tanzania, the country's oldest paper, offering up a feature that carefully weighs the difference between "beautiful breasts" and "perfect breasts" seems harmless enough. A bit forward, perhaps, or at the very least simplistically obsessive regarding the curves of a particular female body part—"For many men female breasts are a source of fascination and fantasy…" but be careful because "The reality is that women's breasts sag with childbirth and age, which is unavoidable"—but nothing more than that.

The article quickly shot to the top of the Daily News's most read list, and inspired dozens of comments (many of which, strangely, brimmed with animosity about neighboring Kenyans). After several readers questioned the paper's publication and promotion of such a titillating article, a commenter identifying himself as the online editor of the paper entered the fray. Noting that the article was originally printed as a sidebar in the paper's weekly women's magazine, he nevertheless acknowledged the controversy surrounding the article and noted, "What's good for the goose is bad for the hen."



Nenê Constantino, the Brazilian airline billionaire, has been indicted on charges that he arranged the murder of a squatter on his property in 2001. The victim, Marcio Leonardo de Sousa Brito, was evidently an unwanted tenant at the tycoon's bus depot garage and came to an untimely end because of a "land dispute" with Constantino. Agence France-Presse reports that the gun used to kill Brito was also used to a kill truck driver in 2001 who was similarly involved in a "land dispute" with Constantino. An Associated Press report suggests that such contract killings are common in Brazil, though "mostly in the Amazon region."



Hisham Talaat Mustafa, the Egyptian developer, former member of the upper parliamentary Shura Council and friend of President-for-life Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal, is another billionaire embroiled in a murder case.

Mustafa apparently couldn't handle his breakup with his ex-girlfriend, singer Suzanne Tamim—who shot to fame by winning a televised singing contest in Lebanon in 1996—especially since she'd started dating an Iraqi kickboxing champion. So he hired a hit man for $2 million to cut her throat at her high-rise apartment in Dubai.

That $2 million ended up costing Mustafa more than he bargained for. The hit man was captured, told police of the billionaire's involvement, and was subsequently convicted. Mustafa then took his own turn in the prisoner's dock in court and was sentenced to death.

In his defense, Mustafa responded as only well-connected billionaires can: he went on TV to say that his involvement with Tamim's death was mere gossip, that gossip hurt the economy and that legislation should make such gossip illegal. The Los Angeles Times suggests that the traditional favoritism shown to the political and social elite in Egypt could not shield Mustafa from the pressure applied by authorities in Dubai, who demanded a murder charge be brought, and the subsequent public clamor generated by his trial.

The sentence will now be appealed per Egyptian law to the country's highest religious cleric, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa. A ruling is expected by June 25.



The police who raided a residence in the eastern Siberian city of Chita this week were shocked to find that a five-year-old girl, apparently locked in the animal-filled apartment by her father, had turned feral and acted like the dogs and cats that had "raised" her. Lunging and barking at the officers who entered the unkempt flat with no heat, sewage or water, Natasha exhibited the classic signs of Mowgli Syndrome, named after Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book character.

Sadder still, local police reports claim that though Natasha shared the apartment with her father, grandparents and other relatives, she was apparently only getting attention from the animals and thereby learned to imitate their sounds, personalities and movements.



It is a year of firsts in Kuwait, where the first four women in the country's history have been elected to parliament, reports Al Jazeera. MPs Massuma al-Mubarak, Aseel al-Awadhi, Rola Dashti and Salwa al-Jassar all hold doctorate degrees conferred in the United States, and two scored significant upsets against popular, conservative incumbents. Dashti noted, "Yes, all of us are educated, but we also have a woman who won who is married to a non-Kuwaiti, one who is divorced, one who is not yet married, one whose mother is Lebanese," she said. "We represent different social strata."

Women in Kuwait, despite making up 54 percent of the vote and 44 percent of the workforce, the largest percentage of any of the Arab states in the Gulf, were only granted the right to vote in 2006. Kuwaiti women appear to be on a steep curve, however, having gone from suffrage to eight percent of the 50 elected representatives in the country in only three years. Consider that it took 18 years to have four women serve in the U.S. Senate (the first of which, Rebecca Latimer Felton, was appointed and served for only one day) and that women today make up only 17 percent of the House and the Senate, both all-time highs.

Though the four women won the praise of the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, not everyone in the country was pleased with the election results. The Kuwait Times reports that Islamist MP Mohammad Hayef Al-Mutairi raised the possibility that he and other MPs might stage a walkout from parliament when the women take their oaths of office. According to Nadia al-Sharrah, head of Aseel al-Awadhi's campaign team, the ultraconservative Islamist candidates and MPs have no reason to be bitter—they resorted to a "dirty game" to win and keep women out of office, only to have the strategy backfire and lose seats.



Not to be outdone by the Kuwaiti quartet, Lithuanians elected their first female head of state this month. Chronicled in the Baltic Review, independent candidate Dalia Grybauskaite scored one of the largest election landslides in the country's history.

Grybauskaite, a former finance minister, ran as an independent to appeal to the majority of the electorate that was fed up with all the available political parties and desperate for sound economic leadership. Receiving nearly 70 percent of the vote with over half of the registered voters heading to the polls, she avoided a run-off and will be sworn in July 12.

"Our new 'Iron Lady' Mrs. Dalia Grybauskaite has much political and financial expertise," Baltic REview executive Dieter Geruschkat tells Gelf. "In recent years, as a European Commissioner, she dealt with Lithuanian politics on an international scale with east and west. That fact will also help her now in the presidential office dealing with the economic crisis on an international level, which is an essential element for a relative small country of around 3.4 million inhabitants that celebrated its 19 year of independence from the former USSR."

Just as intriguing as Grybauskaite's landmark victory has been the publicity surrounding her hobbies and personal life. Like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, she is a martial-arts buff, holding a black belt in karate. Her "Iron Lady" moniker is in tune with one of her idols, former British Prime Minister and ass-kicker-in-chief Margaret Thatcher, but feels a bit odd in the context of another, Mahatma Gandhi.

But if you take it from The Baltic Times, the real story of the election was neither her economic acumen nor her political vision but her purported lesbianism. "While Grybauskaite denied the claims publicly, many still believed that she was lesbian when they went to the polls," its editorial opines. The Times goes further, suggesting that only the terrible economic climate made the citizenry—one that had struggled with the idea of public homosexuality—overlook their fears. Fear not, it concludes, because she also has a black belt, "which shows her willpower to achieve great things."

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Article by Joe Horton

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