Singer Mariah Carey is going ahead with plans to perform in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, despite calls from activists and human rights groups to cancel the concert.
Carey’s press representative told the Associated Press that the singer saw the international, mixed gender show as a “positive step towards the dissolution of gender segregation.” The representative added that “as the first female international artist to perform in Saudi Arabia, Mariah recognizes the cultural significance of this event and will continue to support global efforts towards equality for all.”
But activists feel otherwise. Many feel that the concert is an attempt to divert attention from human rights abuses in the country and soften the kingdom’s image, particularly in the aftermath of the October killing of Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Perhaps more significantly, however, a number of Saudi women had expressed hope that Carey would cancel the concert in support of detained women’s rights activists in the country. Omaima Al-Najjar, a Saudi woman living in exile and founder of WARSA, Women for Rights in Saudi Arabia, launched a petition calling on Carey to “boycott apartheid Saudi Arabia.
The petition notes that Saudi remains one of the “most restrictive countries for women,” and while women have fought to make changes, such as revoking the driving ban and abolishing the male guardianship system, many are now “imprisoned, smeared publicly as traitors and brutally tortured.” Noting that artists are “agents of social change,” Al-Najjar and others had hoped that artists like Carey would use their celebrity to stand for women in the country.
As the country loosens restrictions around areas such as entertainment as it seeks to establish a new, reformist image, many other celebrities will likely face a similar dilemma. It remains to be seen what they will do.