After human rights groups made public appeals for Nicki Minaj to cancel her upcoming appearance at Saudi Arabia's Jeddah World Fest, Minaj announced on July 9 that she would no longer be performing in the conservative country.
“After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest," Minaj told the Associated Press. "While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression."
Minaj was initially scheduled to headline the festival on July 18. In the weeks preceding her performance, however, the director of the Human Rights Foundation, Thor Halvorssen, sent the rapper an open letter detailing the abuses that the Saudi Arabian government is accused of regularly committing against its people. Halvorssen described the country as "among the worst violators of basic individual rights, and in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression."
"The Saudi Arabian State is ruled by an absolute monarchy, in which there is no independent judiciary, no independent media, no plural regime of political parties, and where citizens have no freedom of thought, expression, religion or association," Halvorssen's letter continued.
Over the years, the Human Rights Watch has recorded abuses in Saudi Arabia in regards to religious freedom, the exploitation of migrant workers, and an unjust criminal justice system. There's been increased media attention on the country's policies recently due in part to the October 2018 murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's embassy in Turkey. His work for The Washington Post was often critical of the Saudi government, and it is widely believed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the head of the country's government, was involved in Khashoggi's death. However, he has never been held accountable within Saudi Arabia or by international leadership.
Also in 2018, reports surfaced that some of the Saudi women who'd gained fame by advocating for women's right to drive in the country were being imprisoned by the Saudi government and tortured. Additionally, the country has been criticized for its war against Yemen, where a large number of the population is at risk of starving to death. The Hollywood Reporter notes that although women are allowed to attend the festival that Minaj was set to perform at, they are required to watch the concerts in a separate section and wear an Abaya, a robe-like dress.
Following Minaj's announcement of her decision to cancel her performance, The Human Rights Federation, as well as the grassroots organization CODEPINK, applauded her decision. "We are grateful to Nicki Minaj for her inspiring and thoughtful decision to reject the Saudi regime’s transparent attempt at using her for a public relations stunt,” Halvorssen told the Associated Press.
However, he noted that another musician set to perform at the festival, former One Direction member Liam Payne, has not pulled out of the event or released any comment about Minaj's cancellation. “The July 18 festival in Saudi Arabia still shows Liam Payne as a performer. We hope that he follows Nicki Minaj’s lead," said Halvorssen.
In addition to Payne, Steve Aoki is also still set to perform at the festival. Past American musicians who have performed at Saudi Arabia events include Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey.