Beirut-based indie-rock band Mashrou’ Leila, one of the Middle East’s biggest music groups, has cancelled its performance at the Byblos International Festival in Lebanon after pressure from Christian groups in the country. Byblos is a World Heritage Site near the capital city of Beirut.
The four-member band was scheduled to perform on August 9 to mark the group’s 10th anniversary, but they decided to cancel the show following online threats to stop the performance. The band has Hamed Sinno as the lead vocalist, with Haig Papazian on the violin. Carl Gerges is on the drums and Firas Abou Fakher plays the guitar and keyboards.
Why was Mashrou’ Leila’s performance at the music festival cancelled?
On July 22, days before their show at the Byblos International Festival in Lebanon on August 9, the band posted a message for fans on their Twitter account saying that following the band’s invitation to perform at the festival, they faced a “defamatory campaign” directed at one of their songs.
— Mashrou’ Leila (@mashrou3leila) July 22, 2019
According to comments protesting the song on various social media platforms, the lyrics purportedly refer to “djin” or the Holy Spirit and were defamatory.
The band issued a clarification through a Facebook post in Arabic and denied that such an image had been posted by its members and said that fabricated images were being inaccurately attributed to the band.
Why has Mashrou’ Leila’s 10-year history been controversial?
This is hardly the first time Mashrou’ Leila has faced controversy in its 10-year history during which it has gained an international fan following. Mashrou’ Leila has been banned by Jordan and they also sparked criticism for their music in Egypt when during one of their performances, an audience member unfurled a flag in support of LGBT rights.
The Lebanese rock band’s music has satirical lyrics and focuses on themes like politics, religion, sexuality and homosexuality. Mashrou’ Leila’s lead vocalist, Hamed Sinno is openly gay and advocates for LGBTQ rights in the Middle East.
Following its most recent controversy surrounding it’s scheduled performance at the Byblos International Festival, the band was interrogated by Lebanon’s State Security and were released with orders to remove all social media content that “tamper with the Christian sanctities”.
What role does the Christian church play in Lebanon?
The Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion—an understanding between different Christian denominations—with the Catholic Church, is an independent body under which is the Maronite Church is structured. The Maronite Church is the largest Eastern Catholic church with representation in Lebanon and the Middle East. Lebanon is also the only country in the Middle East where the Catholic church plays an important and active role in national politics.
The Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Jbeil (Jbeil is another name for the city of Byblos) published a lengthy post on it’s Facebook page saying Mashrou’ Leila’s music was “directly contrary to Christian faith and religious and human morals”.
According to Al-Monitor, a news publication that focuses on the Middle East, “an activist with the majority-Christian Free Patriotic Movement party in Byblos said he was prepared to stop the concert from taking place by force”.
Although Lebanon is more liberal than many of its neighbouring nations, the Christian church is a powerful establishment and its rejection of Mashrou’ Leila’s music spurred local politicians in Lebanon to call for the cancellation of its performance in Byblos. Under pressure, the organisers of the Byblos International Festival cancelled the band’s performance at the music festival that was scheduled to occur on August 9.
Where else have Mashrou’ Leila performed?
From the band’s origins when the members were students at the American University of Beirut, the four-member band has performed at Baalbeck International Festival and the Byblos International Festival in Lebanon and have performed elsewhere in the world, including in Dubai and the US.
Most recently, at the Met Breuer in New York City, they performed next to artist Oliver Beer’s ‘Vessel Orchestra’, an installation of 32 pieces of musical objects from the Met museum’s collection.
2/5 We’re so honored that Oliver Beer, and the wonderful people at The Met museum, especially Limor Tomer, allowed us to be a part of this wonderful performance program. We cannot thank you enough for taking a chance on us. pic.twitter.com/PZkMaq56KN
— Mashrou’ Leila (@mashrou3leila) July 13, 2019