Mariah Carey defies activists to perform in Saudi Arabia

The singer Mariah Carey has been criticised by women’s rights campaigners, who have accused her of helping to airbrush Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record by agreeing to perform there.

Carey appeared with DJ Tiesto, Sean Paul and the Yemen-born singer Balqees Fathi on Thursday in what she has claimed was an opportunity to work towards gender desegregation in the kingdom.

Activists, however, have rejected that. “The Saudi government is using entertainment to distract the people from human rights abuses because it can sense the anger among the public,” said Omaima al-Najjar, a Saudi woman who sought political refuge abroad and co-founded Women for Rights in Saudi Arabia (WARSA).

Najjar said the kingdom uses concerts as a diversion from the Saudi-led war in neighbouring Yemen, human rights abuses committed under the crown prince and repressive male guardianship laws that restrict women’s freedoms.

WARSA launched a petition calling on the singer to boycott the country. It said it was focused on Carey because “she has power to stand for women … as an artist and as a female”.

Other campaigners had urged Carey to take notice of fellow Saudi women’s rights activists who have been imprisoned in recent months, and Najjar said artists such as Carey should make their performances in Saudi Arabia conditional on the release of such people. She said a boycott would not impact ordinary Saudis because many could not afford concert tickets, which started at about £60, with VIP seats costing about £400.

Carey’s publicists told the Associated Press that, 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”.

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They added: “As the first female international artist to perform in Saudi Arabia, Mariah recognises the cultural significance of this event and will continue to support global efforts towards equality for all.” The statement said that Carey “looks forward to bringing inspiration and encouragement to all audiences.



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