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British rock artist Rod Stewart turned down multi-million Saudi offer over human rights

The star says his decision is due to the repression of women, LGBTQ community and the press in the Gulf kingdom
Singer Rod Stewart performs at Bridgestone Arena on 5 July 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee (AFP)

British rock singer Sir Rod Stewart turned down a huge pay cheque to perform in Saudi ­Arabia because of the ­kingdom's human rights abuses. 

Stewart made the comments to British newspaper the Daily Mirror in an exclusive interview published on Wednesday. 

The singer, 78, who is one of the best-selling UK music artists of all time, said: “I’m grateful that I have a choice whether or not to perform in Saudi Arabia. So many citizens there have extremely limited choices…women, the LGBTQ community, the press.

“I’d like my choice not to go… to shine a light on the injustices there and ignite positive change,” said Stewart. 

A source close to the rock star said he has used his “moral compass in making the decision”.

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They added that “Rod was determined to do the right thing and couldn’t accept the offer, no matter how much money was on the table. Some things are more important.” 

In the past Stewart has said that he had rejected $1m to play in Qatar.

Stewart's team declined to state how much he was offered to play in Saudi Arabia but that it was “much higher” than the Qatar offer. 

Saudi Vision 2030

In recent years Saudi Arabia has made a determined push to break down the country’s moral and religious codes by allowing western singers and rappers to perform in Riyadh and Jeddah, including the Black Eyed Peas, Sean Paul, Enrique Iglesias and David Guetta, among others. 

This has not gone down without controversy in what is still a very conservative society. 

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Australian rapper Iggy Azalea recently came under fire in Saudi Arabia for controversial lyrics about prophets and asking people to “bow down to a goddess” during her performance.

Many condemned the lyrics as blasphemous, and called out the kingdom for its double standards in allowing a performance to take place which has been decried as anti-Islamic.

Her lyrics were widely condemned for contradicting Islamic values, both inside and outside Saudi Arabia, with the lines "preaching about prophets, it ain't no one man can stop us, bow down to a goddess” generating the biggest backlash.

The strategy of opening up the kingdom to western entertainment is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, an effort to diversify the kingdom away from oil and welcome more tourists.

However, the performance shocked people due to the language used, particularly as Saudi Arabia has previously imprisoned people for promoting “apostasy, unbelief, and atheism”.

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