In a statement on their official Facebook page, the group said they had to cancel their show - which was scheduled for Aug. 7 - "in support of tolerance, freedom of speech and expression."
Their decision comes days after the festival's organizers dropped Mashrou' Leila from their program for "security reasons." According to Human Rights Watch, the organizers' move came about to avoid "bloodshed."
"We regret what has happened and would like to apologize to the attendees," the festival said in a statement on the matter.
Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the final act set to close the festival on Aug. 24, is still going ahead with his show and has not commented on the Mashrou' Leila controversy.
The cancelation of the Lebanese band's concert came a week after a number of fundamentalist Christian groups threatened and warned them against performing in Jbeil (Byblos.) These groups claimed the band's music insults Jesus and the Bible.
Mashrou' Leila was also accused of "blasphemy" from the Catholic Church and various social media groups (one of which has been blocked on Facebook) with regards to two songs, Djin and Asnam. The band ultimately removed the songs from their Facebook and Youtube accounts.
In a statement on the matter, Jbeil city's Maronite Archdiocese condemned the now-canceled concert, saying:
"After looking at the goals of Mashrou' Leila and the content of the songs it performs, which affect religious and humanitarian values as well as Christian sanctities, the Maronite Archdiocese of Jbeil strongly condemns the concert."
The group also called for the "suspension of Mashrou' Leila on the land of holiness, civilization and history." They added that they left further action against the band up to the Catholic Information Center.
The band was forced to censor their social media posts
The attack against the four-member band, whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay, didn't stop at that. In addition to being interrogated by Lebanon's public prosecution, they also received blatant death threats.
On July 24, the authority took in two band members for a six-hour interrogation. According to HRW, State Security officers forced them to pledge to remove and "sensor content on their social media accounts."
"Such pledges violate the band members' right to free speech, given that Lebanese lawyers agree that they are unconstitutional and have no legal basis," HRW said.
The band was forced to take these pledges even though Mount Lebanon's prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun released its members without charges following their questioning.
In response to the decision to drop them from Byblos International Festival, the band released a statement to reassure the public that their songs do not offend anyone's beliefs.
The band has previously performed in Lebanon and at Byblos Intl. Festival
Hundreds on social media were outraged and shocked by the action taken against Mashrou' Leila. Some didn't understand the change in the way the group was being treated in their home country.
The band has performed numerous times in Lebanon, including twice at the Byblos International Festival — once in 2010 and another in 2016. They've also performed in Ehden and Forum de Beyrouth, among other places.
In 2010, Hamed Sinno raised the LGBTIQ+ flag during the band's Byblos concert, publicly taking a stand with respect to homosexuality in the Arab world. Sinno fearlessly made his own sexuality crystal clear, making the band one of the biggest LGBTIQ+ allies for Arabs struggling with their own sexuality.
"I think for me and for rest of the band, as allies, there's a big question about visibility being one entry point to actual change," Sinno once told StepFeed.
Mashrou' Leila's music tackles subjects that are considered taboo in the Arab world and aims at breaking the Arab image out of its orientalist mold. The band's song Shim El Yasmine is just one example. It has become a "gay anthem within the Arab LGBT community," as The HuffPost once put it.
Arab countries have banned Mashrou' Leila in the past
In 2017, the Lebanese band performed to a sold-out crowd in Egypt. Following the concert, Egypt's Musicians syndicate said it will ban the band from performing in the country again, and arrested seven people for raising rainbow flags - which authorities referred to as the "flag of homosexuals" - during the concert. The individuals were detained under charges of "promoting sexual deviancy" and "inciting immorality."
That same year, Mashrou' Leila's scheduled performance in Jordan was put to a halt, despite the fact that the members had been granted approval from the country's tourism ministry and obtained all necessary licenses.
Tens of ministers and members of parliament had reportedly signed a petition against the performance, only to be followed by an official decision by the ministry of interior. It came a year after Jordanian authorities decided to ban the band from performing in Amman, announcing the decision only a few days before the concert was set to take place on April 29, 2016.