Everything Wrong With Saudi Arabia’s MDL Beast

Fyre Festival of the Middle East

A three-day concert in a remote part of nature with overpriced water, DJs and half-naked influencers being paid to have fun is nothing new. In fact, many similar festivals take place annually. Yet MDL Beast does not fall into this category. Why? Because it’s hosted by Saudi Arabia with an aim to erase its corrupt image worldwide.

From December 19 to December 21, Saudi Arabia, for the first time, hosted its own music festival featuring over 70 globally renowned artists such as Steve Aoki, J Balvin, David Guetta, Tiësto and so on. Ticket prices started at 75 riyals (which makes around 15 pounds), and Saudi Arabia was aiming for such a high turnout that some tickets were given away for free and many influencers from around the globe were flown in for the festival. The famous names ranged from Irina Shayk, Joan Smalls, Winnie Harlow, Alessandra Ambrosio to Negin Mirsalehi, Ed Westwick and Ryan Phillippe.

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First time here! 💕 @mdlbeast #mdlbeast

A post shared by Negin Mirsalehi (@negin_mirsalehi) on

An Image Rehabilitation Campaign

The festival appears to be an “image rehabilitation campaign” aimed at fixing Saudi Arabia’s tainted image abroad while trying to be “relevant” to the young populations as well as trying out different ways to boost the economy with oil slowly (yet surely) losing its value. The festival appears to be part of Mohammad Bin Salman, the crown prince’s Vision 2030, involving economic and social reform. Revolutionary Instagram account called Diet Prada, usually known for spotting high fashion knock-offs and instances of blackface, devoted themselves to pointing out why such a festival is fundamentally wrong.

“All of these influencers being paid to attend the festival seem to have forgotten about the atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia under the rule of the crown prince, concerning women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and freedom of journalism.”

Some examples include:

In the photo: Capitol Hill memorial for Khashoggi. Photo credit: POMED

  • The Murder and Dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi

On Oct. 2, 2018, a journalist for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and never came out. He was brutally murdered and dismembered, while the crown prince allegedly knew nothing about it. On Dec. 23, a mock trial, named “a mockery of justice,” resulted with 11 men being charged for the murder.

  • The Torture and Arrest of Loujain Al-Hathloul

In May 2018, Loujain Al-Hathloul, a Saudi human rights activist who had been campaigning for women being able to drive and against the male guardianship system, was arrested. Although through an outdated reform Saudi women can now drive, Al-Hathloul faced inhumane conditions and was tortured, “had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder,” and still remains imprisoned.

  • LGBTQ Rights

Just two weeks before the assassination of Khashoggi, a gay Saudi journalist was threatened to be outed if he kept in contact with foreign press. According to TIME, the journalist and his partner had to “move apartment every six months to avoid attracting attention,” as homosexuality is considered a crime in Saudi Arabia. The pair had to flee the country and go to Australia with tourist visas and were detained until Dec. 13. Looking back on all the changes brought forward by M.B.S., the journalist says that “throwing people in jail without any explanation or trial, is a very alarming development”.

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Global Criticism

Many influencers and Instagram users have been criticising the festival and its attendees. Diet Prada said, “Saudi Arabia has been spending billions to change its image in the west, but this is sure to be the most expensive campaign yet.” The festival has also been facing several allegations of sexual assault experienced by female attendees surfacing on multiple social media platforms. A female dancer from the US said that “The level of sexual harassment at the concert was just ridiculous”.

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What’s worse than an all white @revolve influencer trip? Cashing big fat checks in exchange for #content creation (aka propaganda) to rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia, a country said to be causing “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, according to the United Nations. According to anonymous sources, six-figure sums were offered for attendance and geo-tagged posts. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Following the government’s pre-meditated murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi in October 2018 , the arrest of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul in May 2018, the outing of a gay Saudi journalist and his partner who began receiving death threats from their families (homosexuality is a crime in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death), and countless other human rights abuses, a bevy of supermodels, influencers, celebrities, and musicians convened in Riyadh for the inaugural @mdlbeast . According to @hypebeast , the electronic music festival is “one of the most significant musical events the region has ever seen”. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Saudi Arabia has been spending billions to change its image in the west, but this is sure to be the most expensive campaign yet. In a series of Instagram stories posted by transgender model @teddy_quinlivan , it was revealed that fellow model @emrata had turned down the trip, evidently aware of the country’s human rights crisis. “It is very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there”, said Ratajkowski in a statement to Diet Prada. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Unfortunately, not all shared the same sentiments. There are simply too many attendees to name. Dieters, feel free to tag any attendees you know of… just in case they haven’t been reading the news. • #propoganda #jamalkashoggi #humanrights #humanrightsabuse #lgbtq #lgbtqrights #freespeech #journalism #independent #womensrights #mdlbeast #edm #electronicmusic #supermodel #influencer #content #riyadh #emrata #emilyratajkowski #teddyquinlivan #model #celebrity #dj #electronicmusic #musicfestival #wtf #smh #government #corruption #dietprada

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How, then, did all of these influencers let go of all their Western values and appear to support Saudi Arabia and M.B.S. in front of their audience of millions of followers? The festival has been compared to Fyre Festival which was meant to take place in 2017 and scammed ticket holders out of millions of dollars. Although MDL Beast actually did take place, it was more of an ambiguous PR campaign which used “influencer” clout in order for the Saudi image in the West to be freed from all the human rights violations and rethink what Saudi Arabia is really like.

Model Emilija Ratajkowski, after saying that she turned the offer down, exclaimed: “It is very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there”.

Although it might appear that Saudi Arabia is attempting to salvage its image online, it will take more than influencers being paid to post photos to truly succeed.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com In the featured photo: Influencer in Saudi Arabia — Featured Photo Credit: Elsa Hosk Instagram
About the Author /

Mina is an aspiring journalist interested in current global affairs, foreign policy, Turkey and the Middle East. She is a recent King's College London graduate and is starting an MA programme at SOAS upcoming September.

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