Despite calls for Justin Bieber to cancel his performance in Saudi Arabia, the pop star went through with the show. Bieber, 27, performed a set of his biggest hits at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, where the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix race took place. There were multiple calls for him to pull out of the show, including an open letter from Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of the late Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.
Backstage footage from Bieber’s concert showed the “Sorry” singer excited about performing for his fans there. His set included performances of “Deserve You,” “Somebody,” “Hold On” and other hits, reports TMZ. On Saturday, footage of Bieber with his wife, Hailey Bieber, in Saudi Arabia also surfaced. Hailey wore a face mask and baseball cap, but Bieber was clearly recognizable. Bieber made no mention of the trip on his Instagram page, but Hailey did publish a video of Bieber performing in her Instagram Story.
Last month, TMZ spotted an ad campaign from the Human Rights Foundation in Los Angeles that tried to dissuade Bieber from performing in Saudi Arabia. One banner was put on a truck parked outside the Microsoft Theater, where the American Music Awards were held. “Bieber, Your Saudi Boss Murders Journalists. Do the Right Thing, Cancel,” one banner read. Another read, “It’s Not Too Late Now to Say Sorry. Don’t Sing for Saudi Arabia’s Dictator.”
In her open letter, Cengiz wrote to Bieber that canceling his performance in Saudi Arabia would “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 also reminded Bieber that his invitation came from Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Nothing of significance happens in Saudi Arabia without his consent, and certainly not an event as important and flashy as this,” Cengiz wrote.
Khashoggi, 59, was a journalist who published columns in the Washington Post that are critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed by 15 Saudi government agents in Istanbul in 2018. Prince Mohammed has claimed to not be aware of the operation, but U.S. intelligence reports released by President Joe Biden showed the prince did approve the operation, reports the Associated Press. Saudi Arabia had a trial, with five people involved in Khashoggi’s killing being sentenced to 20 years in prison, and another sentenced to 10 years. Two other people were ordered to serve seven years, reports NBC News. The names of the people were not released and the trial was criticized by a United Nations investigator.
Since Khashoggi’s killing, pop stars slated to perform in Saudi Arabia have been asked to avoid performing there. Mariah Carey performed there, despite calls to boycott. In July 2019, rapper Nicki Minaj canceled her Jeddah appearance. “After careful reflection, I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest,” Minaj told Billboard at the time. “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.”