A beat thumps in the background as the camera zooms in on the young woman, who wears stylish oval sunglasses as she begins a boast about her female neighbors.
“A Mecca girl is all you need. Don’t upset her, she will hurt you,” Ayasel Slay raps in the video, declaring that the women from her city, the third-largest in Saudi Arabia, surpass all others in beauty and strength.
Featuring dancing children and Ayasel grooving around a cafe, the music video for “Mecca Girl” has been celebrated as an anthem for female empowerment in socially conservative Saudi Arabia, home to an increasingly popular rap scene.
Yet the video has also led to a wave of religious criticism, including from the Saudi government, that pressured the performer into taking the video offline. Authorities in Mecca are now calling for the woman’s arrest, saying that the 2½-minute feature on YouTube constituted an act of blasphemy against Islam’s holiest city.
The song was pulled from the rapper’s official YouTube channel after the controversy emerged last Thursday. It was deemed blasphemous by Prince Khalid bin Faisal, the governor of Mecca province, who ordered the prosecution of Asayel and the production team involved in the video’s creation: [‘Bint Mecca’] offends the customs and traditions of the people of Mecca and contradicts the elevated identity and traditions of its sons,” the Governor’s official Twitter account posted on Friday.
Saudi activist Amani Al-Ahmadi told The Washington Post that Asayel is being targeted for her darker skin color. “It’s obviously targeted against a woman who they feel doesn’t represent what Saudi and Mecca should be… If she wasn’t a woman of color, they wouldn’t have seen her as a minority to target.” On Twitter, pro-Saudi regime accounts promoted the hashtag; “#You_Are_Not_Mecca’s_Girls” and urged officials to deport Asayel, who has African ancestry.
The writer Mona Eltahaway called that an act of “misogynoir,” the term that refers to the double discrimination faced by black women, and said it was a “reminder of Mohammed bin Salman’s hollow reforms.”
Indeed, while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to change some of the country’s social codes, bringing in concerts and movie theaters, critics have said his efforts fall short when it comes to creating lasting change.
The call to arrest Ayasel was an example of racism and hypocrisy, Al-Ahamadi told The Post. Rappers from the United States and elsewhere have performed far more obscene lyrics elsewhere in the country, she said.
“It was very modest in nature. If anything, it was just talking about how strong women are in the city compared to others … If you changed that city to any other city, you wouldn’t even know the difference,” she said. “If she wasn’t a woman of color, they wouldn’t have seen her as a minority to target.”