Over the past few years, Lebanese indie band Mashrou' Leila has grown — its music has evolved, its audience has expanded. Today, the band is one of the biggest music acts in the region, but their journey has not been easy.
The band has recently been faced with pressure to cancel its scheduled performance in Lebanon on Aug. 9. The threats are mainly coming from a number of fundamentalist Christian groups who have claimed the band's music insults the Bible.
"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 archdiocese said in a statement on Monday, according to The Daily Star.
The group has since called for the "suspension of Mashrou' Leila on the land of holiness, civilization and history, and leaves it up to the Catholic Information Center to do what is necessary."
However, the band has also received threats from a Facebook page named "God's soldiers."
Rev. Abdo Abu Kasm, the director of the Catholic International Center, said the rejection of the band has everything to do with Christian values.
"The songs performed by Mashrou' Leila touch directly on Christian beliefs," he said, according to The Daily Star. He added that the center cannot accept their songs to be played at a concert attended by thousands of people.
The four-member band, whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay, has toured different continents, only to be faced with troubles back home.
Latifee Lakkis, the president of the Byblos International Festival where the scheduled gig is set to take place, told The Daily Star that a meeting will be held in the next two days to further discuss the matter.
Soon after the threats began circulating online, the band released a statement on its social media platforms, reiterating that they've performed numerous times in the country. The fact that some groups have now decided to take action is a bit odd. It seems like the groups want to imitate the fundamentalist decisions taken against the band in neighboring countries in recent years.
"We are not on some sort of mission to arbitrarily blaspheme and disrespect people's religious symbols," the band wrote in a statement.
In 2010, Hamed Sinno raised the LGBTIQ+ flag in Byblos
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 to break 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.
So, why the sudden change in acceptance?
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. A day later, seven people were arrested 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.