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Girls & Women

This Female Rapper in Saudi Arabia Was Arrested for Lyrics About Women’s Empowerment


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Women around the world risk their lives daily to advocate for equal human rights. To ensure gender equality for all, we must protect freedom of expression. You can join us and take action on this issue here

A black female Saudi rapper is facing scrutiny for posting a music video about her pride for the city of Mecca last week.

Saudi officials have ordered the arrest of the woman, who goes by Ayasel Slay, after she appeared in a video for her song “Bint Mecca,” which translates to “Girl from Mecca.” Ayasel, who is of Eritrean descent, is seen dancing with children in a cafe and raps in English and Arabic about Mecca’s strong and beautiful women. Millions of Muslims make an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia’s Hejazi region that is home to the holiest site in Islam, the Great Mosque of Mecca.

“Yo, drop the beat, with Mecca girls you can’t compete,” Ayasel raps.

Mecca authorities said that Ayasel and the video production team would be prosecuted on Twitter on Thursday. The authorities said the video “offends the customs and traditions of the people of Mecca and contradicts the identity and traditions of its esteemed population.” 

The video has since been removed from Ayasel’s YouTube page and her page has been suspended, according to BBC News. 

Human rights advocates and the public have criticized the government’s move.

Hashem Hashem, the regional campaigner for Syria and Saudi Arabia at the organization Amnesty International, called Ayasel’s ordered arrest hypocritical given Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to liberalize the country. 

“They host music festivals, they bring in international stars, but then when it's about a local artist such as Ayasel, they considered her work and her art to be offensive, to be insulting,” Hashem told Global Citizen. “When, in fact, the song is our first rap song that aims at powering sound Saudi women and girls.”

In the past, the Saudi government has invited Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and BTS to perform in the kingdom.

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Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the government has slowly started to grant women small freedoms. Over the past few years, the country has lifted its driving and travel bans and allowed women to attend sporting events. Despite these small steps towards progress, women’s rights advocates continue to face persecution.

“We [Amnesty International] do think that if somebody wants to make a point to the world that they are moving forward, they need to bring justice to these women and to all activists and end prosecution of artists and human rights defenders,” Hashem said.

People who disapprove of Aysel’s video are using #لستن_بنات_مكة which translates to #You_Are_Not_Mecca's_Girls on Twitter to discredit her.

“Who gave this foreigner the right to speak about Saudi Arabian women in general and specifically about girls of Mecca?” one person wrote.

“Mecca is not African #You_Are_Not_Mecca_Girls,” wrote another.

Many have claimed the reaction to the video is motivated by a history of racism against Africans in Saudi Arabia.

“Had it been an affluent, well connected, light-skinned Saudi influencer who created the video it would have been used in MBS's [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] propaganda as a sign of progress and reform. Double standards and hypocrisy at its best,” one woman wrote on Twitter.

But Hashem said all women are under threat in Saudi Arabia.

“In our documentation as Amnesty, we see very clearly that women of all different religions, sex, and racial identities are being persecuted in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Ayasel was arrested and released in one day, according to Hashem. Some women’s rights activists, however, have been held in prison under brutal conditions since 2018. 

Saudi women and human rights activists say that holistic change cannot happen until the government fully removes the male guardianship system. 

“I want to send a message of solidarity and support from Amnesty International to Asayel and to all Saudi artists and human rights defenders who are continuing the brave fight in the face of such a brutal, brutal machine of repression,” Hashem said.