When it comes to embracing the LGBTIQ+ community, there's a long way to go in the Arab world; the regional attitude towards Mashrou' Leila is a case in point.
Despite making huge strides around the world, the Lebanese indie band has faced trouble on multiple occasions for reasons that, directly or indirectly, pertain to the band's openly gay lead singer and its support of the queer community.
This time around, an American university in Qatar canceled an event featuring the band, citing safety concerns sparked by an anti-LGBTIQ+ online backlash.
Mashrou' Leila was scheduled to partake in a discussion on media revolutions in the Middle East at Northwestern University's Qatar campus (NU-Q) this week. The group was set to join a talk titled "Language and the Rhythm of the Street" and hosted by NU-Q's Media Majlis, a museum that holds events covering media, journalism, and communication.
However, the event was reportedly met with criticism from members of the conservative Gulf community who refused to welcome the band in their country. This comes as the band's work tackles topics that are deemed as taboo in the region, including homophobia, gender equality, and sectarianism.
"This is against our cultural standards and societal norms," one Twitter user wrote under a hashtag that translates to "We refuse Mashrou' Leila's discussion."
The university and the band "mutually agreed" to cancel the event in Qatar and move it to the university's campus in the U.S. city of Evanston, Illinois.
"The decision to relocate was made out of abundance of caution due to several factors, including safety concerns for the band and our community," Northwestern's Director of Media Relations Jon Yates told Reuters.
"We hope that event will facilitate a larger discussion around the ideas that drive the band's art and music [...] and about aspects of civil liberties and freedom of expression that are not always open to such discussions in all parts of the world," Yates explained.
According to a tweet shared by Qatari journalist Fahad Buzwair, the Qatar Foundation had contacted the university, requesting the cancelation of the event and saying the latter "contradicts the message of the foundation which is based on respecting the Qatari society's customs and traditions." This is yet to be confirmed by Qatar Foundation, the umbrella organization NU-Q belongs to.
The university's decision was met with negative feedback, with some critics accusing the American institute of censoring free speech and failing to uphold the principles it claims to be established upon.
This wouldn't be the first time the band has been forced to change plans and cancel events on short notice.
In 2017, the Lebanese band performed to a sold-out crowd in Egypt. A day later, seven people were arrested for raising rainbow flags - which authorities referred to as the "flag of homosexuals" - during the concert. Following the event, Egypt's Musicians syndicate said it would ban the band from performing in the country again.
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.
The band has even faced prejudice in its home-country. In July 2019, the Byblos International Festival Committee canceled its scheduled concert for alleged security reasons, saying its decision came about to avoid "bloodshed." The cancelation came a week after the band faced threats from a number of fundamentalist Christian groups.