By Cait Wherry
all images via Vogue
Rihanna’s Vogue Arabia November cover proved to be the newest international Vogue’s third scandal to catch the public eye since its controversial print debut featuring Gigi Hadid in March. Its most recent faux pas and third cover to be called out for lacking social responsibility featured Rihanna posed as Queen Nefertiti. Fans and critics alike claimed the shoot was appropriative, as Rihanna is neither Egyptian nor Arab. This shoot came shortly after the magazine’s swift change in Editor-in-Chief last April and contentious September cover featuring Bella Hadid.
“We are dedicating the issue to strong and dynamic women who are changing the world,” Vogue Arabia Editor-in-Chief Manuel Arnaut wrote in the November editor’s letter, “Rihanna, our cover star, is one of them. Not only is she one of the most successful pop icons ever, ... she is also an advocate for diversity.”
The November cover shoot featured Rihanna in a Gucci snakeskin jacket and a blue headdress modeled after historical imagery of Nefertiti. While Arnaut claims this homage to Nefertiti celebrates diversity and feminine strength, many have taken issue with Vogue Arabia’s lack of Arab representation.
Since its launch, Vogue Arabia has featured Arab models on only one magazine cover, and models of Arab descent on three of the eight others — including the Hadid sisters and Imaam Hammam.
“The Queen Nefertiti was Egyptian and Rihanna is a mixed girl from Barbados,” Twitter user @xoMinaRS said, according to Business Insider, “They aren't the same thing.”
Bella Hadid’s September cover received much of the same scrutiny. While Hadid is both half-Palestinian and Muslim, the magazine received criticism for being photographed by Karl Lagerfeld in his Fendi collection when the magazine could have hired Arab designers and photographers.
Arnaut, however, commented to the New York Times that the decision to use Hadid and Lagerfeld was because “the Arab world is not a ghetto.” True diversity, he said, includes reporting on Arab culture and global fashion, and, in doing so, recognizing the Middle East as a “highly informed, international and cultured region.”
While many fans still do not see this nominally global approach as good enough, March Vogue Arabia cover model Gigi Hadid spoke to the importance of the magazine’s ability to show the fashion industry’s evolving cultural inclusion and her Palestinian heritage in a March Instagram post.
Similarly, Eman Bare defended the choice to feature the eldest Hadid in a Teen Vogue op-ed.
“Vogue Arabia could have used a women in a scarf, or a Middle Eastern icon, but they used an American. To show that as Muslims, as Arabs, as immigrants, we are not what others have decided for us,” Bare wrote, “We are diverse, just like Americans.”
Bare furthermore argued the importance of the message behind Hadid’s cover, which she deems one of unity and one that strives to humanize Muslims and Middle Eastern peoples in the eyes of Western culture in the midst of a volatile political climate.
Nora Attal is featured on the December 2017 cover of Vogue Arabia.