Saddam Hussein has banned lavish tips to belly dancers after reports that an admirer threw a $3.2 million check at the feet of a nightclub performer.
Saddam fined the man $320,000, to be distributed to the poor. Complaining on national television about "frivolous behavior and shameless spending," he issued a somber warning to rich Iraqis: Don't flaunt your wealth, or else.The curious case of the belly dancer and her smitten fan, worthy of the tales of 1,001 nights, which were set in Baghdad, underlines some of the tensions felt in a society where the rich have become richer and the poor so poor they have to scramble for a daily meal.
The belly dancer's case, the talk of Baghdad for two months, began with a report in the government newspaper al-Jumhuriyah that said Iraqi millionaire Sa'ib Ibrahim had thrown a 1 million dinar check at the feet of a belly dancer in a nightclub at the Habbaniyah resort west of Baghdad.
At official rates, a million dinars equals $3.2 million. Even at the unofficial rate, a million dinars is a lot of money: roughly 6,700 times the average Iraqi's monthly income.
With sanctions-spurred hyperinflation, that average puts the purchasing power of most Iraqis at the level of rural India or sub-Saharan Africa. Middle-class Iraqis have been selling their assets, including family silver, to buy food.
Before Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, its vast oil wealth had supported a large and growing middle class, comparable with that of many industrialized nations.
The Jumhuriyah report coincided with the arrival in office of a new interior minister, Saddam Hussein's half brother Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan, a tough law-and-order man attuned to the mood of the people through Iraq's intelligence services.
Al-Hassan, apparently aware of widespread discontent over a growing rich-poor gap, promptly put the millionaire in jail and referred the matter to Saddam Hussein.
An investigation commission that included Saddam's personal secretary completed its probe into the belly dancer's tip last week. It found that the story, just like the tales of 1,001 nights, did not entirely match the facts.
The check, investigators found, was blank. But, the fine stands and the tipper remains in jail.