Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday December 8, 2021
Justin Bieber performs in Saudi Arabia despite calls for boycott over human rights
Canadian pop star Justin Bieber performed to a packed crowd in the Red Sea city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, singing some of his most popular hits. The Sunday night concert took place even as human rights campaigners and activists called on Bieber to cancel his performance to protest the kingdom’s arrests and crackdown on critics.
Bieber’s model wife, Hailey Baldwin Bieber, posted a supportive video on Instagram of him on stage, with the words: “Go Baby.” Other videos on social media showed Bieber on stage solo, wearing a co-ordinated red outfit. Pop and R&B singer Jason Derulo performed before Bieber with backup female dancers in sweatpants and baggy tops.
Only a few years ago, this would have been an unthinkable scene in Saudi Arabia, where ultraconservative norms prevailed. Concerts were banned and unmarried men and women were segregated in public spaces. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind the sweeping changes as he works to modernize society, attract foreign investment and create jobs for youth.
Human Rights Watch and others, however, have called on celebrities to boycott the kingdom, saying such events are aimed at diverting attention and deflecting scrutiny from Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Bieber was the biggest name performer to take the stage as part of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Prix, which saw Lewis Hamilton win ahead of the last race of the Formula One season.
Bieber has not commented on the public pressure surrounding his performance and calls for him to cancel the show. Weeks before his show in Saudi Arabia, the fiancee of slain Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi joined a chorus of voices urging him not to perform at the kingdom’s F1 race.
In an open letter published by The Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz had urged the megastar to cancel his performance to “send a powerful message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to restore the reputation of a regime that kills its critics.” She noted that the decision to host the F1 race and invite a star like Bieber “comes directly” from the crown prince.
Bieber’s concert in Saudi Arabia comes shortly before he opens a world tour next year. The tour is being promoted by Live Nation, the company that owns Ticketmaster. Saudi Arabia’s state-owned sovereign wealth fund — steered by Prince Mohammed — is among the largest institutional holders in Live Nation, with a stake worth some $1.4 billion US. (CBC)
Meanwhile, Tim Hortons has teamed up with pop superstar Justin Bieber to launch three new Timbit flavours — called Timbiebs — along with co-branded merchandise. (Global)