Mariah Carey shakes off boycott calls for her Saudi concert

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Mariah Carey, one of the world's most celebrated artists, is performing in Saudi Arabia on Thursday for the first time, but there's a growing chorus of Saudi women calling on her to cancel the concert to show support for detained women's rights activists.

Carey is the highest-profile star to perform in the kingdom since it began loosening decades of restrictions on entertainment, music and fun as part of a push by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to overhaul the economy and transform society.

But activists say her concert is an attempt by the government to polish its image after the Oct. 2 killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

It's a dilemma that other celebrities could face as they ink multimillion dollar deals to perform in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom's General Entertainment Authority has promised a roster of major performances and sports exhibitions by the world's biggest names.

Carey's publicists told The Associated Press in a statement that when "presented with the offer to perform for an international and mixed gender audience in Saudi Arabia, Mariah accepted the opportunity as a positive step towards the dissolution of gender segregation."

"As the first female international artist to perform in Saudi Arabia, Mariah recognizes the cultural significance of this event and will continue to support global efforts towards equality for all," the statement said, adding that Carey looks forward to bringing inspiration and encouragement to all audiences.

In December, the kingdom hosted a Formula-E car race in Riyadh, where thousands of young Saudis and hundreds of international visitors partied into the night at concerts by Enrique Iglesias, The Black Eyed Peas and DJ David Guetta.

Omaima Al-Najjar, a Saudi woman who fled the kingdom to seek political refuge abroad, said the concerts are a diversion from the Saudi-led war in Yemen against the neighboring country's Houthi rebels, human rights abuses committed under the crown prince and repressive male guardianship laws that restrict women's freedoms.

"The Saudi government is using entertainment to distract the people from human rights abuses because it can sense the anger among the public," she said.

39 PHOTOS
Mariah Carey out and about
See Gallery
Mariah Carey out and about
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Singer/actress Mariah Carey attends the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Singer Mariah Carey attends 19th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party hosted by Warner Bros. Pictures and InStyle at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 31: Mariah Carey performs during Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve at Times Square on December 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Mariah Carey performs live on stage at The O2 Arena on December 11, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: (L-R) Bryan Tanaka and singer Mariah Carey are seen leaving the Royal Monceau hotel on December 8, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: Singer Mariah Carey and son Moroccan Scott Cannon leave the 'Hermes' store on December 8, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 06: Singer Mariah Carey is seen on December 6, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Mariah Carey attends the AHF World AIDS DAY Concert and 30th Anniversary Celebration featuring Mariah Carey and DJ Khaled at the Shrine Auditorium on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Mariah Carey performs onstage during the AHF World AIDS DAY Concert and 30th Anniversary Celebration featuring Mariah Carey and DJ Khaled at the Shrine Auditorium on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Mariah Carey is honored with Hand and Footprint Ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 1, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Mariah Carey is honored with Hand and Footprint Ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 1, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Mariah Carey Hand And Footprint Ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 1, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: Mariah Carey attends V Magazine honors Karl Lagerfeld after party at Le Bain on October 23, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: Mariah Carey at a dinner honoring Karl Lagerfeld on October 23, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Mariah Carey performs onstage during VH1 Hip Hop Honors: The 90s Game Changers at Paramount Studios on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images)
BELLEVUE, WA - SEPTEMBER 06: Global Icon Mariah Carey Announces Mariah Carey Christmas Factory During The Grand Opening Of Sugar Factory American Brasserie on September 6, 2017 in Bellevue, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Sugar Factory American Brasserie)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Mariah Carey and Bryan Tanaka perform in Concert - New York, New York at Madison Square Garden on August 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for imPRint)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Singer Mariah Carey and Bryan Tanaka are seen out on August 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - AUGUST 10: Mariah Carey and her children Moroccan and Monroe attend the Mariah Carey concert after party at Sugar Factory American Brasserie on Ocean Drive on August 10, 2017 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Sugar Factory American Brasserie)
CORRECTION - US Singer Mariah Carey speaks at a press conference to announce an agreement with Israeli cosmetics brand Premier Dead Sea, in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by JACK GUEZ has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Dead Sea] instead of [Red Sea]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 24: Singer Mariah Carey leaves the Plaza Athenee Dorchester Collection Hotel on Avenue Montaigne on June 24, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 25: Mariah Carey is seen on May 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20: Mariah Carey is seen at 'Catch' on May 20, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by BG008/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 13: (L-R) Monroe Cannon, Nick Cannon, Mariah Carey and Moroccan Scott Cannon attend the Moroccan Scott Cannon and Monroe Cannon Party on Mary 13 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 13: Singer Mariah Carey attends the Moroccan Scott Cannon and Monroe Cannon Party on Mary 13 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04: Mariah Carey attends Mishka Bulochnikov's 14th Birthday Celebration at Tao Los Angeles on May 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 01: Mariah Carey attends the MC Records Launch Party, a joint venture with Epic Records at CATCH LA on May 1, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 30: (L-R) Monroe Cannon, Nick Cannon, Mariah Carey, and Moroccan Cannon pose with Disney characters at Disneyland on April 30, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 11: (L-R) Monroe Cannon, TV personality Nick Cannon, Moroccan Scott Cannon and singer Mariah Carey arrives at the Nickelodeon's 2017 Kids' Choice Awards at USC Galen Center on March 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 11: Recording artist/singer Mariah Carey (L) and Moroccan Cannon arrive at the Nickelodeon's 2017 Kids' Choice Awards at USC Galen Center on March 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Mariah Carey attends the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Mariah Carey attends the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Mariah Carey and Bryan Tanaka are seen on February 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by gotpap/Star Max/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Mariah Carey is seen at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on February 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by BG017/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Mariah Carey is seen at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on February 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Mariah Carey (L) and Bryan Tanaka attend a basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 04: Actress/singer Mariah Carey arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'The LEGO Batman Movie' at Regency Village Theatre on February 4, 2017 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 04: (L-R) Gerrick Kennedy, Mariah Carey and guest attend a private party at Catch for Mariah Carey's New Single 'I Don't' ft YG at Catch LA on February 4, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 04: Singer Mariah Carey attends a private party at Catch for Mariah Carey's New Single 'I Don't' ft YG at Catch LA on February 4, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Al-Najjar is a co-founder of Women for Rights in Saudi Arabia, or WARSA, which launched a petition calling on Carey to boycott the country. The petition aimed to publicly pressure Carey because "she has power to stand for women ... as an artist and as a female," Al-Najjar said.

Activists are tweeting at Carey directly, urging her to take notice of the prominent Saudi women's rights activists imprisoned since May who had long campaigned for social changes and women's empowerment. The women, who include activists in their 20s as well as mothers, grandmothers and retired professors, have been accused of vague national security violations in connection to their human rights work.

Al-Najjar said artists like Carey should make their performances in Saudi Arabia conditional on the release of the women's rights activists. A boycott would not impact ordinary Saudis because many cannot afford the concert's ticket prices anyway, she said.

Tickets for Carey's concert start at around $80, and VIP seats — already sold out — cost $530. The average monthly wage for Saudis is around $2,600, according to the General Authority for Statistics.

Alia al-Hathloul called on Mariah Carey to remember her sister, Loujain al-Hathloul, who she says has been abused and threatened with death while in detention because of her activism, which included defying the kingdom's ban on women driving before it was lifted last year.

"Remember, thanks to my sister @LoujainHathloul, you r able to perform in Saudi Arabia. I wish she can attend your concert. But she's locked behind bars because she tried to improve women's condition. Don' forget to thank her on stage," she wrote to Carey on Twitter.

Saudi female artist Ms Saffaa wrote on Twitter: "Will @MariahCarey be singing 'It's a long road when u face the world alone. No one reaches out a hand 4 u 2 hold' to imprisoned female #Saudi activists @LoujainHathloul, @Saudiwoman, & @azizayousef?"

18 PHOTOS
Murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
See Gallery
Murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Members of the press report from in front of the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friend wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Security cameras are seen at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: A man passes through police barricades to enter the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 7, 2018. - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is following the developments on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who has gone missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, to complete routine paperwork. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Official cars are seen parked in front of the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Turkish journalist Turan Kislakci head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association talks to the media outside of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 7, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. According to a Turkish unnamed government official the prominent Saudi journalist was murdered inside the Saudi mission in Istanbul after he went missing. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: An entrance sign is seen at the front of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: The Saudi Arabia national flag is seen above the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: Members of the media film and report outside the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. The pan-Arab satellite news broadcaster owned by billionaire Saudi businessman Alwaleed bin Talal will go on air February 1, promising to 'break the mould' in a crowded field.AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images)
A Saudi diplomatic vehicle leaves the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friends wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee waists beside an entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 4, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee of the consulate checks a diplomatic vehicle in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 4, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Both women, as well as Al-Najjar, made their pleas from abroad, where they do not face the prospect of arrest for speaking out.

Carey is to perform at King Abdullah Economic City, a two-hour drive north of Islam's holiest site of Mecca. The Economic City, built as a sort-of enclave for foreigners and Saudis, is gated and can only be entered with permission from security.

The concert, which includes DJ Tiesto, has also drawn the ire of some ultraconservatives on Twitter, angered that it is taking place in the greater region of Mecca.

The General Entertainment Authority's online flyer for Carey's concert shows her only from the waist up, with a red scarf draped over her arms. Women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear loose, long black robes known as abayas in public. Most Saudi women also cover their hair and face.

Still, a concert like this would have been unthinkable until recently. Religious police used to enforce strict gender segregation, scolded women for not covering their hair and barged into restaurants to demand music be turned off.

The changes have a powerful backer in the crown prince, who is seeking to boost domestic spending and draw attention to his reforms.

Efforts to brand him a reformer took a hit after Saudi agents close to the crown prince killed and dismembered Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the prince's crackdown on dissent. The U.S. Senate and U.S. intelligence have blamed the crown prince for the killing, but Saudi Arabia insists he had no involvement.

Thursday night's concert is taking place at the Saudi International golf tournament. The European Tour has drawn several of golf's biggest stars, including four of the top five players in the world.

The purse is $3.5 million, though the primary income for these players is appearance money, likely to be in the $1 million range for the biggest names.

The golfing champions signed up to play for the European Tour event last April, well before Saudi agents killed Khashoggi. Even so, at least one big-name player pulled back. UNICEF ambassador Paul Casey has also said he'd "sit this one out."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Entertainment Insider by AOL to get the hottest pop culture news delivered straight to your inbox!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.