If you happen to follow a bunch of models and influencers on Instagram and kinda noticed that they were literally all in same freakin’ place a few days ago, then good for you— you have an incredibly keen sense of observation. But what looked like the most envy-inducing vacation overseas, actually turned out to be the MDL Beast festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—perhaps one of the most dangerous places in the world right now.
Saudi Arabia has a long and troubled history with denying their citizens of basic human rights. The country has a terrible track record with sexual harassment and crimes against its women, uses capital punishment against members of the LGBTQ community, consistently silences the population of free speech, and sees absolutely no issue with it.
Sadly, this is only scratching the surface, which is why when Instagram user, Diet Prada, revealed that celebrities like Sofia Richie, Scott Disick, Irina Shayk, (and more) attended the MDL Beast Festival this past weekend, people online were understandably upset. Here’s everything you need to know about the drama surrounding the festival and why it’s such a controversial place for influencers to go 2019.
What is the MDL Beast Festival?
According to the festival’s official website, “MDL Beast is a three day festival bringing together the best in electronic music, performing arts and culinary craft – just outside of Riyadh.” The festival showcased a mixture of Saudi and international talent, treated its attendees to immersive performances and visual spectaculars, and boasted onsite luxury boutiques so attendees can shop in between performances.
What celebrities and influencers attended MDL Beast Festival?
Literally everyone, and that’s not even an exaggeration. Sofia Richie, Scott Disick, and Irina Shayk attended the festival, but so did Joan Smalls, Elsa Hosk, Armie Hammer, Ryan Philippe, Ed Westwick, Luka Sabbat, Olivia Culpo, Winnie Harlow, Wilmer Valderrama, and Alessandra Ambrosio.
How much were celebs and influencers offered to attend the festival?
According to Diet Prada’s exposé, anonymous sources revealed that people were offered six-figure salaries in exchange for attending the festival and providing geo-tagged posts. This likely explains why almost none of the people who attended the festival didn’t use any of the usual hallmarks of a partnership deal, like using the sponsored or ad hashtags.
Why were all of these celebrities invited to the festival?
In October, British news outlet The Guardian published an article that claimed Saudi Arabia is smack dab in the middle of a rehabilitation campaign for the country’s image. Part of that rehabilitation includes inviting influencers out to Saudi Arabia to paint a more fun and exciting image for people (particularly in Western countries) that see the country in a negative light.
“The Saudi government is investing so much in trying to reconstruct its image, particularly after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey,” said Dr. Raihan Ismail, a lecturer at Arab and Islamic studies at the Australian Nationality University.
“If someone goes to Saudi Arabia and sees all the changes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia and how some Saudis particularly younger Saudis are enjoying themselves, of course they’re going to say that ‘this is great the Saudi state is changing its liberalizing’. But on the other hand, we’re dealing with a very repressive state,” she added.
What controversial things have happened in Saudi Arabia?
There’s too many to keep track of, but here are a notable few:
- Last year, Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi was brutally killed. Jamal was a Saudi dissent (a person who challenges established policies and/or doctrines) who was last seen visiting the Saudi consulate in Instabul, Turkey and was thought to be assassinated by the Saudi royal family. As the festival was happening, decisions were being made about the five men who were ultimately sentenced to death for Jamal’s killing.
- In August, Loujain al-Hathloul, an imprisoned women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, was offered the chance of freedom after serving a year of jail time after advocating for women’s rights, but only if she recorded a video statement saying that she hadn’t been tortured while she was in jail. She refused.
- Three days ago, Twitter had to suspend and remove a whopping 88,000 accounts from their platform because they were all tied to a Saudi Arabian government disinformation campaign. The accounts, according to Twitter, were “aggressively liking, retweeting, and replying to amplify messages that were favorable to the Saudi government’s interests.”
How are people reacting to the celebrities that attended the MDL Beast Festival?
To simply put it—not good.