Homophobic abuse, online harassment force Indie rock band Mashrou' Leila to split

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulSep 16, 2022 | 13:14

Homophobic abuse, online harassment force Indie rock band Mashrou' Leila to split

Lebanese indie rock band, Mashrou' Leila have split after growing online harassment and abuse for championing queer rights in the Middle East.

The lead singer of the band, an openly gay musician, Hamed Sanno, informed the Lebanese podcast Sarde After Dinner that the band had called it quits.

“I decided it was enough. I also felt that each member of the band had a huge amount of stress on them. And this is not a normal life to have 100,000 people telling you on Facebook that you must die.”
- Hamed Sinno on Sarde After Dinner

The news comes following a history of clashes with governments across the Middle East that accused the band of “inciting debauchery” by cultivating a culture of pro-LGTBQIA+ sentiments during their concerts.

But before that, here's a quick run-through on the band and their discography:

Having had their gigs in Jordan cancelled consecutively in 2015 and 2016, the band was in the news for their 2017 concert in Cairo, where the late Sarah Hegazi famously flew the Pride flag and would later be condemned by authorities.  

Sarah Hegazi waves the Pride flag at the 2017 Mashrou' Leila concert in Cairo

Sarah Hegazi was an Egyptian socialist, writer, and lesbian activist. Following the incident at the 2017 concert, she was imprisoned at Sayeda Zeinab police station in Egypt, where male agents incited inmates to beat her, and verbally and sexually assault her.

People gather in solidarity and remembrance for Sarah Hegazi's death in Amsterdam. Photo: Getty Images

Hegazi endured severe PTSD for the rest of her life as an asylum-seeker in Toronto, where she remained until ending her own life in 2020.

She was charged with joining an organisation to contravene the law to incite acts of immorality or debauchery. Her arrest coincided with Egypt's zero-tolerance crackdown response to end public support for LGBT rights in the country.

The 2017 concert provoked the Egyptian parliament to reinforce their anti-queer laws by mandating a minimum of three years imprisonment for committing homosexual acts and also granted the police seeming immunity to do as they please in order to ensnare the LGBTQIA+ community in Egypt.

Protests erupt against Egypt's anti-queer mandates. Photo: AFP

Later in 2019, Mashrou’ Leila’s gig at Lebonon’s Byblos music festival was cancelled after calls from religious leaders accused the band of blasphemy and a slew of death threats began to be levelled against the band across social media. 

 “The cancellation of Mashrou’ Leila’s concert reflects the government’s increased reliance on over-broad and abusive laws to stifle and censor activists, journalists, and artists.”
- Lama Fakih, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

The cancellation of the 2019 concert triggered protests and a solidarity campaign on social media. On the date of the concert, independent activists gathered to put on a show in solidarity with the band and against censorship under the banner “The Sound of Music Is Louder”. 

Artists gather and perform in solidarity towards Mashrou' Leila in 2019. Photo: AFP

The event gathered dozens of sympathetic musicians, bands and comedians at 'The Palace' venue in Beirut's Hamra district. Over a thousand people attended the show, while hundreds waited in droves at the venue's entrance. At 9 pm, pubs and restaurants across the city played Mashrou' Leila songs in solidarity with the band.

And though it is a travesty that we may never get to hear the band again, here are our top Mashrou' Leila picks, in fond memory of the revolutionary band:

Last updated: September 16, 2022 | 13:14
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