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Rod Stewart Turns Down Saudi Arabia Gig In Protest Over Treatment of Women, LGBTQ+ Community

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Sir Rod Stewart has turned down what could likely have been one of his biggest career paydays ever as a symbol of protest against what he said was the repressive policies of the Saudi Arabian government. “I’m grateful that I have a choice whether or not to perform in Saudi Arabia,” the singer wrote in an Instagram message on Thursday (Oct. 12).

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“So many citizens there have extremely limited choices — women, the LGBTQ community, the press,” it continued. “I’d like my choice not to go… to shine a light on the injustices there and ignite positive change.” It was unknown at press time what Stewart, 78, was being offered to play in the kingdom where members of the LGBTQ+ community do not have state-recognized rights and where same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year that despite talk of reforms for women in the nation, “authorities continue to implement a male guardianship system requiring women to obtain male guardian permission to get married, leave prison, or obtain some forms of sexual and reproductive healthcare.”

While Sir Rod turned down the gig — at press time a spokesperson for the singer had not returned Billboard‘s request for comment on the details of his decision — the Kingdom has hosted other Western pop stars in recent years, including Bruno Mars, David Guetta, Mariah Carey, Black Eyed Peas and Iggy Azalea, among others. In 2019, Nicki Minaj pulled out of the Jeddah World Festival in Saudi Arabia in support of LBGTQ and women’s rights while Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Future, 50 Cent and others agreed to play the event in the country whose morality police once frequently raided venues playing loud music.

In a statement to People magazine a spokesperson for Stewart added, “Sir Rod Stewart has once again turned down one of the most lucrative concert offers of his career to perform in Saudi Arabia. Sighting his ‘moral compass in making the decision,’ Stewart chose to refuse the offer over the kingdom’s long history of human rights abuses, including discrimination against women and LGBTQ+ people, and of silencing its critics.” Stewart also said in 2022 that he had turned down a chance to more than $1 million payday to play a show in the Gulf state of Qatar, which also has a history of human rights and labor abuses and discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to polish the Kingdom’s profile for many years by opening its first movie theaters and announcing an end to its ban on women driving. Those reforms have not expanded to a free and open press, however, as evidence by the savage 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents close to the crown prince in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which the Saudi government reportedly attempted to cover up by destroying evidence and denying involvement.

See Stewart’s message below.

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