Mariah Carey plans to make her live debut in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, January 31st, dismissing calls to cancel her concert as a symbolic show of support for the detained women’s rights activists and the victims of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen.
“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,” the singer’s publicists wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. They added, “[When] presented with the offer to perform for an international and mixed gender audience in Saudi Arabia, Mariah accepted the opportunity as a positive step towards the dissolution of gender segregation.”
Carey, who is booked as part of a bill that also includes Sean Paul and Tiesto, is among the most famous artists booked in Saudia Arabia since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began relaxing the country’s ultra-conservative restrictions on entertainment and pop culture. In December, the Black Eyed Peas, Enrique Iglesias and David Guetta all performed at a Formula-E car race in Riyadh.
Activists have criticized the crown prince’s cultural push as a distraction from Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses including the murder of Washington Post columnist (and vocal Saudi critic) Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. (While the U.S. Senate and CIA — though, notably, not President Trump — have concluded that the crown prince ordered agents to kill the journalist, Saudi Arabia has denied his involvement.)
“Doesn’t she know Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive and murderous regimes on the planet?” Code Pink, the grassroots organization known for its anti-war activism, wrote in a statement calling for Carey and the others to cancel the January 31st show. “Doesn’t she know that women fighting for their rights are tortured in Saudi prisons? Doesn’t she know that Saudi Arabia is bombing school children in Yemen?”
Saudi Arabia’s pattern of silencing dissenters has been widely documented, with reports last year that several of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists had been jailed or forced into exile even as the kingdom began to publicly embrace some reform measures, like ending its ban on women drivers. The nonprofit group Human Rights Watch reported last year that some of the detained activists were being physically tortured in prison.
In an op-ed published today by CNN, the brother of jailed activist Loujain al-Hathloul alleged that she has been “regularly whipped, beaten, electrocuted and sexually harassed in a basement she called the ‘palace of terror.'” He added: “Now that I told you the story of my sister, will Mariah Carey call for her release on stage? Will my voice be heard?”