Lebanese group resigns after years of harassment for sexual orientation


BEIRUT — Hamed Sinnonlead singer of the four-member Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila formed in Beirut in 2008, announced the end of the group.

The announcement was made on the Lebanese platform “Sardinian” Podcast on YouTube on September 11.

Sinno explained that the decision to disband the group was the result of online harassment, hate campaigns and the banning of the band’s concerts in Lebanon and several other Arab countries.

“Every member of the band is a genius and can work on their own,” Sinno said. “It’s hard for the band to continue to exist when they’re deprived of their audience.”

Sinno also recounted Mashrou’ Leila’s struggles with bans in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, revealing that the real reason for the band’s restrictions is their declared gender identity, as they identify as queer – something that , according to him, was behind the wave of attacks on the musical group and their work in recent years.

Many of the band’s songs address the issue of homosexuality, namely the 2009 song “Cham El Yasminewhich is about a forbidden relationship and love between two men, and their struggle to live a normal life together.

The group has also produced several songs that address social and political topics in unconventional ways. Group members also addressed love, marriage, sex, religion, emancipation, the reality of Arab cities and revolutions, political assassinations and other thorny issues in the Arab world.

“Whenever you demand change, they drive you to despair until you sell all your freedom. They tell you to stop preaching and come dance with them,” read the Lyrics of the song”Lil Watan“(“For the Motherland”), the second release from Mashrou’ Leila’s third album “Raasuk” released in 2013.

Since its creation in 2008, the group has distinguished itself on the alternative Arab music scene. He has released four music albums – “Mashrou ‘Leila” (2009), “El Hal Romancy” (2011), “Raasuk” (2013) and “Ibn El Leil” (2018).

While the band’s songs resonated with Arab youth as they boldly discussed rebellious topics against prevailing social norms and traditions, drawing on the support of marginalized groups, the band’s lyrics also sparked widespread controversy in the Arab region.

Following Sinno’s announcement of the group’s disbandment, the Lebanese were divided between those who welcomed the decision and others who were appalled.

Meanwhile, the group refrained from making any media statement, without clarifying its position.

lebanese actor Ziad Itani told Al-Monitor: “There is nothing sadder than a musical group, be it Mashrou’ Leila or any other group, announcing the end of one’s musical career.”

He said, “No matter what we think of the band, because people have different tastes, creativity should have no limits, that’s what was imposed on the band. Art cannot be forced.”

Itani added: “It is a shame that Mashrou’ Leila is ending, as violence and hate speech persists and thrives in Lebanon, at a time when we urgently need to stifle corruption and shut down detention centers.”

Khaled Soubeih, musical artist and leader of The Great Disappeared band, believes that the decision to disband should be up to the band members, their circumstances and their ability to continue making music.

“What is worrying about Mashrou’ Leila’s decision to disband is that it is the result of an intensification of repression and censorship attempts targeting vulnerable groups,” he told Al-Monitor. .

He said: “That’s not to mention accusations of blasphemy and treason, racism, hatred and threats of violence and attempts to silence voices seen as different, whether in the name of the homeland, security national or in the name of preserving religion, morals and values.”

Soubeih added: “In addition to political authority in our [country], there is also a religious and moral authority that acts as a watchdog, which naturally silences many voices. No doubt there will be newcomers to the arts and culture scene who will rise up against the [cultural] tyranny that has occupied the region for decades.

Mashrou’ Leila has given several concerts in Lebanon and abroad and has faced several violent campaigns during his musical career.

In 2016, the group’s concert was canceled in Jordan following protests from parliamentarians and Christian authorities. The ban was renewed the following year by a decision of then-Jordanian Interior Minister Ghaleb al-Zoubi, on grounds of “provoke public feelings.”

The hardest blow for the group was in Cairo. On September 22, 2017, Mashrou’ Leila performed in front of a large crowd in the Egyptian capital, during which Sarah Hegazy, an Egyptian LGBTQ activist, raised the rainbow flag. She was arrested along with 30 other members of the public for incitement to immoral acts.

The band was later banned from performing in Egypt.

“[Hegazy] was sexually harassed and tortured with electric shocks during her detention, which lasted three months, before ending her life and committed suicide in 2020,” Sinno said during the podcast. “It was extremely difficult for me. I felt guilty for a long time. I felt that I no longer wanted to make music.”

On August 9, 2019, the band was scheduled to perform at the Byblos International Festival. The concert was banned amid widespread rejection and accusations that the lyrics to one of the band’s songs offend the Christian faith.

In response to the ban at the time, a group of activists organized a free, alternative concert playing Mashrou’ Leila songs in Beirut. The event was dubbed “The music is louder.”

Sahar Mandour, Lebanon researcher at Amnesty International, told Al-Monitor: “Amnesty International documented the attacks on members of the group when they announced they were going to perform in Byblos. We approached the Ministry of the Interior in particular, as it was their duty to protect the safety of the members, but they refused, despite all the threats and the hate speech and violence to which they were subjected. .

She noted: “The [Lebanese authorities] made it clear to the arts and culture scene, LGBTQ communities and different sects in Lebanon that there is no room for freedom of artistic thought and freedom of expression has red lines not to be cross.

Mandour said: “I regret to see the group disband but I don’t believe its members were able to continue. They were trying to create something new and faced aggression from the authorities in the region. Why? Because one of the members is queer? It’s persecution for her gender and sexual identity and blatant discrimination that has nothing to do with the band’s musical work.

She added: “Fortunately, they [the members] are safe and sound. I hope they heal from the psychological wounds inflicted on them.”

Jad Shahrour, Media Officer at Samir Kassir Foundation, a Lebanese non-profit civil organization advocating for the culture of democracy in Lebanon and the Arab world, told Al-Monitor: “What happened is not democracy. It’s repression, even if it was the band’s decision to disband.

He said: “The religious authorities in Lebanon succeeded in suppressing a music group. This is an indication that Lebanon continues to be regressive when it comes to freedoms, especially with regard to the interference of religious authorities in the cultural and artistic fields and the sexual orientation of the LGBTQ community, which is highly unacceptable. and rejected.”


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