Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila has responded to the arrest of 22 people at its September concert in Cairo after fans hoisted a Pride flag.
“We cannot begin to explain how saddened we are to see yet another era of backwards tyranny creep over one of our most beloved countries and audiences,” the band wrote in a powerful statement posted to Facebook on Monday night. “This crackdown is by no means separable from the suffocating atmosphere of fear and abuse experienced by all Egyptians on a daily basis, regardless of their sexual orientations.”
“It is sickening to think that all this hysteria has been generated over a couple of kids raising a piece of cloth that stands for love,” Mashrou’ Leila continues.
Formed in 2008, Mashrou’ Leila is fronted by the openly gay singer Hamed Sinno. Its lyrics commonly tackle queer themes, a novelty for a band whose fan base comes from a religiously conservative region. The 2009 song “Smell the Jasmine,” which was featured on the group’s self-titled debut album, describes a romance between two men.
That content has earned Mashrou’ Leila both a dedicated following in the Middle East and condemnation from local governments. Last year Jordan authorities banned the group from performing in the country.
The band’s Cairo show, held in Festival City’s Music Park on Sept. 22, again found the band in the crosshairs.
Egyptian police, who used security footage to identify those responsible for the pro-LGBTQ display, reportedly rounded up suspects and charged them under “incitement to debauchery.” Although homosexuality is legal in the North African country, Egyptian police frequently exploit the 1961 law, which is vague enough to be applied to any behavior authorities don’t like.
The accused were allegedly subjected to anal examinations, a discredited test intended to “prove” homosexuality. The practice, which has been likened to sexual assault, has been condemned by the United Nations and World Health Organization as torture.
Court proceedings are currently underway. One defendant has already been sentenced to prison time without legal representation at his trial.
In its statement, Mashrou’ Leila condemns the treatment of LGBTQ prisoners and calls upon the Egyptian state to end its anti-gay campaign, which has ramped up during President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime. Human Rights Watch claims that in the past year, 34 people have been imprisoned for violating the law on debauchery.
“We reiterate our unwavering support to the Egyptian people in this horrible time,” Mashrou’ Leila writes. “Human rights are not privileges to be given and taken away. Human rights just are.”
“We apologize to our fans for having to endure yet another attack,” the band adds.