Singer Justin Bieber found himself at the center of controversy after deciding to attend a concert in Saudi Arabia, where activists called for the Canadian pop star to cancel his visit due to the kingdom’s human rights violations.
Justin Bieber, 27, is scheduled to sing on Sunday in front of thousands of people in Jeddah (west) on the sidelines of the first Formula 1 Saudi Grand Prix, alongside French DJ David Guetta and American singer Jason Derulo.
The decision of the previously lucrative “Love Yourself” singer to take part in the concert sparked outrage from human rights groups.
As Saudi Arabia seeks to smooth its image as an ultra-conservative kingdom, arrests of dissidents, rejection of the LGBTQ+ community and the high number of executions in the country are regularly flagged by international organizations.
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was assassinated in 2018 in his country’s consulate in Istanbul, led the movement calling on Justin Bieber to cancel his visit.
“This is a unique opportunity to send a powerful message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to restore the image of a regime that is killing its opponents,” she wrote in a column in the Washington Post.
On social media, the hashtag #WTFJustin was widely shared as a plane bearing the slogan “Why does Bieber sing to Saudi killers?” She flew over Los Angeles last month at the American Music Awards.
The Canadian singer declined to comment.
“You can get the impression that it’s just Justin Bieber singing in front of the audience. What is being shown in Saudi Arabia this weekend is a really complex topic, including from He sings there and who drives there “at the Grand Prix”.
Like other countries, the Kingdom wants to make sport a lever of influence to improve its image at the international level. But, according to Chadwick, the authorities dismissed the “sport” accusations, preferring to show their interest in sports as a way to diversify an oil-dependent economy.
The kingdom is using its hydrocarbon exploitation-related wealth to lure major sporting events and celebrities, notes James Dorsey, a specialist on Middle East affairs at the University of Singapore.
He believes that the Saudi authorities “will give enough money that it becomes impossible to refuse this kind of thing (jackpot, concerts)”.
But for the head of the Saudi Automobile Federation Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, “it is not the singer who (calms) the image of the kingdom, but its leaders and people.”
Beyond power as human rights advocates, “many people take advantage of Justin Bieber and make him something that he is not,” says Mr. Chadwick.
The singer “on the one hand will be severely prosecuted by the liberals for coming to Saudi Arabia.” But “if he had not come, some in the Gulf or anywhere else would have seen him as opposed to what was happening in those countries.”
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