If asked to list the personalities that have dominated headlines in the Middle East in recent years, Americans might put forward any number of names: Bashar al-Assad, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Hassan Rouhani. Few Americans, however, realize that one of their own, the long-fading celebrity Lindsay Lohan, has left her own imprint on the region. Even if all but forgotten in Western households, the star of “Herbie: Fully Loaded” remains a much-discussed phenomenon in the Arab world.
Lohan left her homes in Los Angeles and London for the Emirati megacity of Dubai in 2016. A year earlier, the rumor that she had converted to Islam began to spread after paparazzi photographed her carrying a copy of the Quran while leaving court-ordered community service.
“To my knowledge she is not considering fully converting to Islam, but I know she has been taking a keen interest in the Arabic culture of late,” one of Lohan’s representatives told The Independent at the time. The Dubai move served as the culmination of her fascination with the Middle East.
In addition to allowing Lindsay Lohan to experience Arab and Islamic culture firsthand, living in Dubai offered her a respite from scoop-hungry Western tabloids.
In addition to allowing Lohan to experience Arab and Islamic culture firsthand, living in Dubai offered her a respite from scoop-hungry Western tabloids. The former child actress had become a target of the news media’s scorn after a series of arrests tied to problems with substance abuse. Whereas fans and journalists swarmed Lohan in the United Kingdom and the United States, the United Arab Emirates’ restrictions on the news media facilitated a quieter life.
For all Lohan’s efforts to avoid the paparazzi, though, similar headlines continued to follow her.
Rumors about her conversion to Islam resurfaced after she made her Instagram bio, “Alaikum Salam”—the Arabic response to a common Islamic greeting. The possibility that Lohan had become a Muslim struck few as far-fetched, given that she had abstained from alcohol and drugs in London, flirted with Buddhism and Judaism in recent years, and posted Quranic verses on social media only to delete them. Her friendships with London-based Saudis did little to quell the rumors.
Unlike its counterparts in the Western world, the news media in the UAE chose to welcome the American celebrity with open arms. A headline on the magazine Emirates Woman gushed about “how Lindsay Lohan found her peace in the Middle East.” Further up the Persian Gulf, the Saudi newspaper Arab News praised Lohan for snagging a spot on Emirates Woman’s cover, describing her as the glamorous “US star” who “famously made Dubai her home away from home.”
The longer Lohan spent in the Middle East, the stranger her actions and the coverage of her became.
Her most bizarre episode came during a 2018 trip to Moscow, when Lohan harassed a family of Syrian refugees after they refused her offer to bring their son to her hotel “to watch a movie on a TV or a computer.”
Lohan streamed the entire incident on Instagram. Embarrassed and surprised by the backlash that followed the publication of the video, she expressed interest in putting the incident behind her. In her own words, she wanted to “erase it and throw it in the trash.”
In Dubai, Lohan had better luck befriending Middle Easterners. As early as 2016, the actress had found a new “best friend” in the city: Karen Wazen Bakhazi—an influencer with over 2.5 million followers on Instagram. Lohan’s celebrity friends also included Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS)—one of the best-known and most-divisive public figures in the Middle East.
Lindsay Lohan’s father painted her relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “platonic and respectful.”
Lohan’s father painted her relationship with the Saudi royal as “platonic and respectful,” noting, “Lindsay has a lot of powerful friends in the Middle East, because she is huge out there.”
A few tabloids claimed that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader pampered Lohan, loaning her a credit card and a private jet. For her part, Lohan praised MbS as “a good person”—according to her exaggeration-prone father at least. The actress’ father also insisted that, despite speculation in the news media, Lohan and MbS had never participated in an affair.
As peculiar as Lohan and MbS’ interactions may seem, the Saudi crown prince has long engaged with American elites. He has formed a close friendship with Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and several sources have accused the heir apparent to the Saudi throne of hacking the phone of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post. For the time being, Lohan and MbS’ relationship has stayed free of controversy.
Lindsay Lohan’s decision to wear a hijab during a 2018 London fashion show notwithstanding, she has receded from the headlines over the last two years.
Lohan’s decision to wear a hijab during a 2018 London fashion show notwithstanding, she has receded from the headlines over the last two years. In 2019, Emirates Woman lauded her visits with Syrian refugees in Turkey, but the Moscow encounter remains the best-covered example of Lohan’s engagement with the Syrian diaspora by far.
In December, the star of “The Parent Trap” and “Mean Girls” announced that she intended to depart Dubai for good. By February, however, an Emirati newspaper was reporting that she had returned to Abu Dhabi for a brief trip.
Whatever the future holds for Lohan and the Middle East, her misadventures will likely prove as confusing and entertaining as they always have. Outside Dubai, Lohan managed to spend the last few years confounding her followers on Instagram, feuding with an ever-expanding list of minor celebrities, and starring in the short-lived television show “Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club.”
No one, not even Lohan herself, can predict her next move if the past serves as any guide.
Between humanitarian crises and proxy wars, the Middle East has never run short on drama, but few in the region would dispute that it could still benefit from a little more of Lohan.