In an open letter published by The Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz urged the Canadian megastar to cancel his December 5 performance in the Red Sea city of Jiddah to “send a strong message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to the reputation of a regime that kills its critics.”
Bieber’s concert is the most notable appearance scheduled for the race in Jiddah, although other F1 concert performers include rapper A$AP Rocky, DJs David Guetta and Tiesto and singer Jason Derulo.
It is not the first time a pop star has been pressured to withdraw from a concert in Saudi Arabia. Mariah Carey was the biggest performer to take the stage in Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents in Turkey in October 2018. She ignored calls to boycott the show.
However, public pressure in 2019 prompted Nicki Minaj to cancel her performance on stage at a concert in Jiddah. She told The Associated Press at the time that she wanted to show support for women’s rights, gay rights and freedom of expression.
Khashoggi’s stunning 2018 murder was carried out by members of a team of 15 Saudi government agents sent to Istanbul, where the writer and former government spokesperson met at the Saudi consulate for documents needed to marry Cengiz. She waited for him outside the consulate, but he never ran away. His body has never been found.
The murder by agents working for the Crown Prince sparked international breathlessness and cast a shadow over Prince Mohammed, whose reputation never fully recovered. Prince Mohammed insists he had no prior knowledge of the operation that killed Khashoggi. However, a US intelligence assessment released under President Joe Biden determined that the Crown Prince approved the operation.
“Please know that your invitation to participate in a concert in Jiddah comes directly from MBS, as the Crown Prince is called,” Cengiz wrote in her open letter to Bieber. “Nothing of significance happens in Saudi Arabia without his permission, and certainly not such an important and flashy event as this one.”
Bieber’s concert in Saudi Arabia comes shortly before he opens a world tour in February that has been moved to 2020 due to the pandemic.
In the meantime, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund — led by Prince Mohammed — has acquired shares in Live Nation, the company that owns Ticketmaster and promotes concerts for Bieber and other big stars. As Live Nation shares plummeted last year amid COVID-19 lockdowns and the cancellation of thousands of shows, the Public Investment Fund bought $500 million worth of shares in the battered company.
Public filings show that the Saudi wealth fund is now the second largest institutional holder in Live Nation, with a stake of approximately $1.4 billion.
Human Rights Watch has also called on Bieber and the other performers to withdraw from F1 concerts in Saudi Arabia, saying these events target “sportwashing” by diverting attention and control from the human rights situation of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi youth are the main visitors to these concerts and enjoy the new social changes in the country that enable music and gender mix. The General Sports Authority of the kingdom states that sport is a tool for social change within the kingdom.
Next month’s F1 race will be Saudi Arabia’s first time hosting the flagship sporting event, though the kingdom has hosted the lesser-known Formula E race in recent years in an effort to raise awareness of the country as a tourist destination.
At the time of Khashoggi’s assassination, the crown prince was hailed for ushering in social reforms that changed the lives of many in the country. Khashoggi had written columns for The Washington Post criticizing the crown prince’s rash foreign policy and the parallel actions of activists and alleged critics, including women’s rights activists, writers, clergy and economists.
Saudi Arabia held a trial against some of those involved in his murder, with five being sentenced to death before being spared execution.
Khashoggi’s fiancé has told The Associated Press she will continue to speak out in hopes of giving a voice to those imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for expressing their views.
The video in the player above is from an earlier report.
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