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Saudi female rapper facing prosecution after release of Mecca music video

Black artist Ayasel Slay facing racist backlash online over her tune lauding the holy city, which is her hometown
Ayasel Slay is of Eritrean descent but hails from Mecca (Screengrab/YouTube)

A black Saudi female artist is facing prosecution after posting a video of herself rapping about being from Mecca, which authorities have claimed is "offensive" to the customs and traditions of the holy city.

In the song “Girl of Mecca”, Ayasel Slay, who is of Eritrean origin, raps in a cafe about her pride in being from the city, while youths dance in the background.

Slay praises women from the city as "powerful and beautiful" and raps: "Our respect to other girls but the Mecca girl is sugar candy."

The video, which was uploaded to Slay's YouTube channel last week, has since been removed and those involved in its production are now facing prosecution after the city's governor, Khaled al-Faisal, ordered their arrests for "insulting the customs of Mecca" and “contradicting the identity and traditions of its esteemed population”.

Her video sparked immediate negative responses from social media users in Saudi Arabia. The hashtag “You are not Mecca’s girls” (#لستن_بنات_مكه) began trending, with posts steeped in racist language and tropes. 

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"Immediate deportation is the answer, in addition to holding every foreigner who claims to be from Mecca accountable," one tweeted.

Using the hashtags “Mecca girl represents me” and “Help Ayasel”, many on social media came to the singer’s defence and denounced the racism.

Unlike the backlash faced by “Girl of Mecca”, the last time a Saudi female rapper’s video went viral reactions were a lot more positive.

In 2018, Leesa A released a video celebrating the country lifting the ban on women driving, which went viral and has been viewed more than seven million times. 

Users online have also highlighted the different treatment received by controversial foreign artists performing in the kingdom. For instance Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred, who is facing three rape charges, performed in Riyadh last year.

In recent years, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has attempted to implement a number of social reforms in Saudi Arabia, including creating an entertainment industry in the conservative kingdom. 

This has included inviting globally renowned artists like Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj to perform there - a first for the conservative kingdom. Minaj, however, pulled out citing her support for the rights of women and the LGBT community

These measures have been implemented in tandem with severe crackdowns on those in any way critical of the government. Women rights activists who had long called for the driving ban to be lifted, such as Loujain al-Hathloul, have been imprisoned and reportedly tortured.

"This is so typical of the Saudi government to do - bring western influencers to artwash the regime but attack real Saudi women who try to artistically express their cultural identities," tweeted one Saudi-American, Amani al-Ahmad.

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