When iconic American singer Mariah Carey was offered the chance to perform in Saudi Arabia this month, she “accepted the opportunity as a positive step toward the dissolution of gender segregation,” her publicists said. She hopes to bring “inspiration [and] encouragement to all audiences.”
Not everyone sees it that way.
The pop star and Grammy Award winner has come under fire for accepting the offer, and activists have called on her to either cancel Thursday’s performance or use the opportunity to shed light on the plight of jailed women. Some have also called for her to recognize the brutal killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year.
While Saudi Arabia has recently loosened some restrictions on women, it has also cracked down on women advocating for further freedoms. Loujain al-Hathloul is one of the female activists who have been behind bars since May 2018. Hathloul was arrested after regularly pushing for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, at one point driving into the kingdom from the United Arab Emirates when women were still banned from operating vehicles. She also fought against guardianship laws that require men to sign off on female participation in certain activities.
As The Post previously reported, people familiar with the activists' conditions in prison said they were beaten and deprived of sleep. Some had “apparent signs of abuse, including uncontrollable shaking or difficulty standing.” Human Rights Watch has also reported that Saudi authorities have tortured, sexually harassed and assaulted a number of women’s rights advocates who have been detained since May.
Hathloul’s brother wrote in an op-ed for CNN on Thursday that his sister has been “whipped, beaten, electrocuted and harassed on a frequent basis.”
“Whenever Loujain spoke about the torture sessions to my parents, her hands shook uncontrollably,” he wrote. “I fear the pain will stay with her forever.”
He added he would “like to see [Carey] ask for the release of my sister while she is on stage.” On Twitter, her sister Alia also asked Carey to remember she is able to perform in Saudi Arabia thanks to Hathloul’s activism.
“I wish she [could] attend your concert,” she wrote. “But she’s locked behind bars because she tried to improve women’s condition.”
Carey refused to back down. “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,” her publicists said in a statement.
Video from the event posted on social media showed Carey taking the stage Thursday night dressed in a sparkly, long-sleeved, floor-length dress, her hair uncovered. The mood at the concert “was joyful and full of anticipation," reported Saudi-based outlet Arab News.
The plight of women in Saudi Arabia was in the spotlight in January thanks to Rahaf Mohammed, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who flew to Thailand on the way to Australia, where she wanted to seek asylum. Her family was abusive, she said, and she feared she would be killed if she returned with them to Saudi Arabia. After Thai authorities detained her on her layover, she barricaded herself in a hotel room and demanded to speak to the U.N. refugee agency. Her story went viral, and she was granted asylum in Canada within days.