Influencers Face Backlash Promoting Tourism in Saudi Arabia, Despite the Country’s History
By Rachel George
Social media influencers were reportedly paid up to six figures to promote a music festival in Saudi Arabia, despite the country’s disregard for human and women’s rights.
Winnie Harlow, Sofia Richie, and Halima are a few of the influencers who are now facing backlash for appearing to be in support of this country, although its history with basic human rights have been unjust.
The inaugural MDL Beast Festival is one of the largest music, culture, and arts festival held in the Kingdom. It’s a major component of the country’s Vision 2030 plan to reach 100 million tourists a year, helping to reduce their oil independence under millennial Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Over 40,000 people traveled to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, to see performances from David Guetta, Steve Aoki, South Africa’s Black Coffee, and other electronic artists, producers, and DJ. Guests arrived in groups and were housed in huge tents and driven around in brand new SUVs.
This lavish trip also included a 14-day visa, VIP tickets to an international sporting event, a series of paid tours funded by the government, and admission to extreme sports events at Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion futuristic mega-city project.
However, what many can’t understand is how these influencers can support a country that still oppresses women, imprisons those who speak out against acts of brutality and the denial of human rights, and has a blatant disregard for LGBTQ issues.
This same country just recently allowed women to drive and to travel without the permission of their husbands or a male relative. Yet, women’s rights activist Loujain al–Hathloul has been imprisoned for a year and a half in Saudi Arabia, for fighting for these basic rights.
Other influencers criticized the campaign and declined the invitation, in hopes of bringing more attention to the recent injustices happening there. A popular travel Instagram account said they wouldn’t even consider collaborating “with a government whose wealth is tied up in the exploitation of fossil fuels, who arguably remains the most prolific sponsor of international Islamic terrorism, who imprisons/murder journalists for daring to speak out against the crown.”
Aside from the campaign, many took the heat with the posted photos on social media, like this one of an influencer smiling and posing with her face revealed in front of a society of children and women who are expected to dress modestly in black headscarved and body-covering abayas.
After getting hip to the issues going on in Saudi Arabia, Nicki Minaj pulled out of a scheduled performance there earlier this year. “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 in a statement.