BEIRUT: Musical icon Melhem Barakat sparked a political controversy when he left for Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad Tuesday.
In a story originally broken by the El-Nashra website Barakat was reported to have accepted an invitation from Syrian Military Intelligence chief Assef Shawkat to meet with Assad and discuss Lebanese prisoners being held in Syria.
The El-Nashra story noted Barakat, famous for his traditional Lebanese singing and theater work, received the invitation after speaking well of the embattled president who is attempting to put down an uprising in the country.
Visits to Damascus by foreign officials have been a rare event recently as many countries have cut off ties with Assad after his brutal crackdown on the opposition movement that has challenged his rule for over a year.
Journalist Jamal Fayyad, who is close to the singer, told The Daily Star that Barakat left Lebanon for Damascus Tuesday morning for his afternoon meeting and said he would spend the day in the capital.
Several anti-Syrian regime websites criticized Barakat for the move, saying he overstepped boundaries by mixing politics with his musical career.
“It’s an interesting thing to note that Barakat has previously said he stays out of politics,” read one message the Lebanese Forces website linked to on their homepage. “Based on this we wish Abu Majd [Barakat] all the luck with a president who kills his own people,” read the message.
Another celebrity who made the buzz Tuesday was Lebanese singer Elissa, who resigned from her post as a U.N. goodwill ambassador, Albawaba reported Tuesday. Attempts by The Daily Star to reach Elissa’s manager Amin Yaghi were unsuccessful.
The resignation comes just over one year after Elissa’s appointment as the Middle East goodwill ambassador for the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina against Malnutrition.
According to Albawaba, sources at the U.N.’s Dubai headquarters revealed that Elissa resigned after her request for IIMSAM to create a program to let her visit needy areas around the Arab world to perform her duties went unanswered.
It was reported that Elissa had said she felt her position was useless if she was unable to help those who were in need or to raise awareness.
Spirulina is an algae that can combat severe malnutrition through its high vitamin content. The U.N. uses it in crisis areas, a small amount can prevent some of the most serious effects of starvation.
Elissa became a goodwill ambassador in April 2011, replacing Aycha Gadhafi, daughter of late Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Gadhafi was stripped of her post over her father’s campaign against Libyan revolutionaries.