Middle Eastern indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila have announced they are disbanding over online abuse, drawing tributes from fans and rights activists who say it will result in the loss of a voice rare public for LGBTQ+ rights in the region.
Lead singer Hamed Sinno, who is openly gay, told the Lebanese podcast ‘Sardinia After Dinner’ that the band made the decision after persistent harassment on social media.
“It put a lot of pressure on us,” Sinno told the podcast.
“We couldn’t keep working and creating like this.”
Sinno formed the band with six others while studying at the American University of Beirut in 2008.
Mashrou’ Leila has performed around the world, with her lyrics addressing bigotry, gender equality and homophobia, and is well known as a champion for LGBTQ+ rights.
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But he faced frequent interruptions to his concerts, including an outright ban on playing in Jordan.
Most countries in the Middle East do not tolerate open celebrations of LGBTQ+ life, with many citizens criminalizing lesbian, gay and transgender people.
In 2019, the Lebanese festival in Byblos canceled a Mashrou’ Leila concert “to avoid bloodshed” after it was accused of blasphemy by religious leaders and threatened with death on social media.
And, in 2017, Egypt arrested dozens in a crackdown after fans raised a rainbow flag at a band concert in Cairo, a rare public show of support for rights. LGBTQ+.
The “separate” LGBTQ+ lifeline
Fans and LGBTQ+ rights groups mourned the end of the group.
“For gay people in the MENA region, this sends a horrifying message,” said Hussein Cheaito, a Lebanese human rights activist and development economist.
“The lifelines we have created for ourselves, through art and otherwise, are cut.”
Activist, Chrystine Mhanna, said the decision to disband the group reflected the high levels of hate speech often directed at LGBTQ+ public figures in the Middle East.
“We can’t ask you to fight, but we would like to take this opportunity to talk more about freedom and how this country [Lebanon] loses every ounce of it day after day,” Mhanna told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Band member Haig Papazian described the impact of criticism and repression in the Middle East in an article published in The Guardian newspaper earlier this year.
“Since we formed in Lebanon 10 years ago, our music seems to have created controversy as an indie rock band that has remained steadfast in support of gay rights and criticism of society and politics. Lebanese,” Papazian said.
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