Mariah Carey became “the first female international artist to perform in Saudi Arabia” on Thursday, according to her publicists. And though she likely dazzled concert attendees, many are upset the artist did not cancel her highly anticipated performance.
In the lead up to Carey’s concert, Saudi women and rights activists implored the singer to take a stand on behalf of the women whose rights have been suppressed, by either canceling or using her performance to call attention to the struggles of the country’s jailed activists.
Hi @MariahCarey— علياء الهذلولAlia al-Hathloul (@alia_ww) January 25, 2019
Remember, thanks to my sister @LoujainHathloul, you r able to perform in Saudi Arabia.
I wish she can attend your concert. But she’s locked behind bars because she tried to improve women's condition.
Don' forget to thank her on stagehttps://t.co/0Pf7bfz3yB
Does @MariahCarey know that #Saudi imprisons & tortures activists? Does she know know that Saudi uses entertainment 2 showcase fake reforms & 2 distract from their countless human rights abuses. Help us urge MC 2 reconsider performing in Saudi. #BoycottSaudi & sign the petition:— Ms Saffaa (@MsSaffaa) January 28, 2019
Hi @MariahCarey just remember that because of #SaudiFeminists like @LoujainHathloul you are able to perform in #SaudiArabia. ICYMI #WHRDs been been imprisoned for 276 days now. #DoSomething#FreeSaudiActivists— Women's March Global (@WM_Global) January 31, 2019
Singers like @MariahCarey will be able to change costumes in between sets. Because they are privileged guests there to entertain. While #Saudi women stand silently wearing their ‘Abaya’s. But it’s empowering to see another woman liberated while she remains oppressed, right?— Amani Al-Ahmadi | أماني الأحمدي (@amani_aal) January 31, 2019
Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for its gender discriminatory policies — particularly its male guardianship system, which requires a woman to obtain a man’s permission in order to travel, to seek employment, or get surgery. Women’s rights activists have made some gains in recent years, but many have been punished for speaking out against such policies.
Among those who called on Carey to cancel was Walid Alhathloul, the brother of imprisoned women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul.
In an op-ed published on CNN, Walid says his sister, a “women’s rights hero” who championed women’s right to drive, was helping to set up a domestic violence shelter, which ultimately led to her arrest. She has been held in prison for eight months and has repeatedly been tortured in a separate facility she describes as a “palace of terror,” Walid wrote.
Despite the activists’ appeals, the singer went through with the performance as planned.
The vast majority of public spaces, including workplaces, are segregated by gender in Saudi Arabia. Often women are even required to enter restaurants and other shared spaces through a separate door.
The Grammy winner accepted the “offer to perform for an international and mixed gender audience … as a positive step toward the dissolution of gender segregation,” her publicists told the Associated Press in a statement ahead of the concert.
But activists have criticized the performance, calling it a “distraction” from ongoing rights abuses and saying it will do little to further gender equality in the country.
The Saudi crown prince wants us to believe he's liberalizing because he lets Mariah Carey sing with her hair uncovered, but women's rights activists seeking to abolish the repressive Saudi "guardianship" system are still detained and tortured. https://t.co/LqEvwQJp4Tpic.twitter.com/KioQRARAtS— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) February 1, 2019