Nicki Minaj pulls out of Saudi concert over rights concerns

Rapper says she is cancelling her set to show support for women's and LGBTQ rights and freedom of speech.

    Minaj is commercially the most successful female rapper of all time [File: Danny Moloshok/Reuters]
    Minaj is commercially the most successful female rapper of all time [File: Danny Moloshok/Reuters]

    Hip-hop star Nicki Minaj pulled out of a concert in Saudi Arabia because she said she wants to show support for the rights of women and LGBTQ people along with freedom of expression.

    In a statement, the chart-topping Trinidadian rapper told the Associated Press news agency, after "careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest".

    "I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression," she said.

    Minaj - whose real name is Onika Tanya Maraj - was originally scheduled to headline the concert on July 18. 

    Her scheduled performance triggered a storm on social media, ranging from joy to criticism and disappointment.

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    One fan posted a video of Minaj performing with the caption: "Am I dreaming or is this really happening?"

    Several others posted doctored images of the artist in traditional Saudi dress.

    In a profanity-filled video posted on Twitter that has been viewed more than 37,000 times, a Saudi woman wearing a loose headscarf accused the Saudi government of hypocrisy for inviting Minaj to perform - but requiring women who attend the concert to wear the modest full-length robe known as abaya.

    "She's going to go and shake her ass and all her songs are indecent and about sex and shaking ass and then you tell me to wear the abaya," the Saudi woman said. "What the hell?"

    'Abysmal' rights record

    In Saudi Arabia, gender segregation between single men and women is still enforced in many restaurants, coffee shops, public schools and universities.

    Many women who fought for their rights, including being allowed to drive, are now imprisoned in the kingdom. Saudi officials have also been accused of orchestrating the grisly killing of outspoken writer Jamal Khashoggi at their consulate in Istanbul last year.

    The New York-based Human Rights Foundation on Friday wrote Minaj an open letter urging her to withdraw from the festival, calling on her to "refuse the regime's money" and use her global influence to demand the release of the jailed Saudi women activists.

    Amnesty International has described the Saudi human rights record as "abysmal", adding the nation is in the "grip of a sweeping crackdown against critics of the government".

    Over the past several months, Saudi Arabia has seen performances by singers including Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, the Black Eyed Peas, and Sean Paul, as well as DJs David Guetta and Tiesto.

    British musician Liam Payne and American DJ Steve Aoki will still perform at the Jeddah World Fest this summer.

    Minaj has previously performed in the United Arab Emirates and in 2015 appeared at a controversial Christmas event in Angola, despite calls from a human rights group to abandon the concert. 

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies