Saudi Arabia announced this week that the country would “usher in a Year of Entertainment in 2019." The announcement said that the head of the General Entertainment Authority, Turki al-Sheikh, wants to make Saudi Arabia “a top 10 destination for entertainment.”
The news release claims Western brands and celebrities are currently in negotiations to go to Saudi Arabia. The release said the entertainment authority "is negotiating long-term contracts with more than 100 local and international partners, with plans to bring musicians including Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, along with international comedians Trevor Noah, Chris Rock, Seth Rogen and Gabriel Iglesias, among others to the kingdom.”
But it looks like at least some of these “contracts” might be as fake as the viral but ill-fated Fyre Festival in the Bahamas in 2017.
A representative for Rogen said his team had never heard from Saudi Arabia, and that there have been no talks or negotiations, adding that this was something the comedian would “never participate in.” Similarly, a representative for Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” said the reports about negotiations for Noah to perform in Saudi Arabia were “not true.”
Turki has had turbulence before when it comes to doing business abroad. As the kingdom’s former sports minister, he bought his way into Egypt’s soccer scene, purchasing a rival squad to one of Egypt’s top teams. He caused an uproar when he abruptly sold the team a few months later, after fans of the rival team shouted abuse and insults at him. According to a source, Turki has a bit of a reputation for over-inflated promises and unfulfilled contracts in his business dealings. Perhaps it is no surprise that he is already promising celebrities he can’t deliver.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 33, is using entertainment to court the support of Saudi Arabia’s young population, of which 70 percent are under age 30. This week, Mariah Carey performed in Riyadh, becoming one of the most high-profile Western acts to book a public gig. It was apparently not the first time Carey has appeared at the invitation of the Saudis. Rumors have it that she once was flown on private jet to Washington to appear at a private function with Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman.
The songstress has turned a deaf ear to the oppressed to perform for dictators before. She has put on shows for family members of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, as well as the longtime former president of Angola. She later said she was embarrassed by the Gaddafi performance.
Carey is already trying to spin the trip. She apparently viewed her Riyadh show as “a positive step towards the dissolution of gender segregation” in Saudi Arabia, her publicists told the Associated Press. “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."
I don’t recognize this despot-loving Carey. If someone could help me find the Mariah Carey from my childhood, who was once held up as a icon, that would be great.
Global artists who perform at the invitation of Mohammed bin Salman, without using their platforms to speak out for innocent Saudis, are only helping to artwash his increasing repression. And we know that repression isn’t limited to Saudis: The regime forced Netflix to yank and episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act,” which was critical of the Saudi crown prince.
The tragic irony in all of this is that Khashoggi would have likely celebrated some of these entertainment initiatives — had he not been murdered. If the activist Loujain al-Hathloul were free, should likely would have enjoyed singing along with Carey.
But until there is justice for Saudi Arabia’s heinous crimes, Western artists should stay far, far away from the kingdom.