A concert by one of the Middle East’s most popular bands, Mashrou’ Leila, whose frontman is openly gay, has been cancelled following pressure from Christian groups.
The Lebanese quartet were due to play Byblos international festival on 9 August, but the set has been cancelled “to prevent bloodshed and preserve security” according to the organisers, after critics of the band on social media threatened to attack the concert.
The office of the town’s archbishop had published a statement that said the group “undermine religious and human values [and] attack sacred symbols of Christianity”, while the country’s Catholic Information Centre called them a “danger to society”.
Human rights organisations have condemned the decision, and the wider campaign against the group. Lama Fakih, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The cancellation of Mashrou’ Leila’s concert reflects the government’s increased reliance on overbroad and abusive laws to stifle and censor activists, journalists, and artists.”
An earlier statement from Amnesty read: “It is unconscionable that there continue to be such calls emanating from institutions that are meant to serve as role models to their constituencies, and can and should be upholding the right to freedom of expression and protection of vulnerable groups, instead of enabling hate speech, including homophobia.”
Amid the growing criticism, the band put out a statement last week, concluding: “We are not on some sort of mission to arbitrarily blaspheme and disrespect people’s religious symbols”.
Mashrou’ Leila have previously been banned from performing in Jordan on two occasions, and sparked outrage among conservative Egyptians after members of a 35,000-strong crowd at a Cairo concert unveiled rainbow flags, resulting in 75 arrests. Speaking to the Guardian in March, Sinno said that after the concert, “our inboxes were constantly littered with death threats and the most hateful remarks possible”.