Seven concertgoers were arrested last week by Egyptian authorities after photo and video evidence showed them waving rainbow flags at the concert of indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila. Hamed Sinno, the band’s lead singer, is one of few openly gay musicians in the Middle East, and the band’s performance received harsh criticism from the country’s conservatives after images of the flags gained popularity on social media, prompting Egypt’s top prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, to open an investigation. Although homosexuality is not explicitly illegal under Egyptian law, the concertgoers were arrested for “promoting sexual deviancy,” a common charge used by authorities to bypass legal technicalities. Talks of banning Mashrou’ Leila from performing in Egypt again have been pushed by the deputy head of the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate Reda Ragab. This, however, is not new to the popular band, which has already been banned from Jordan twice.

One of the arrested individuals is a student named Ahmed Alaa, who has remained very active on social media. One of Alaa’s most popular posts, receiving 2,000 likes, claims: “Had I raised the ISIS flag, I wouldn’t be facing half of what I am facing now,” followed by another post assuring his followers that he is okay. This concert is only one of the multitude of instances of the Egyptian government suppressing any symbols of gay rights or appreciation. In 2001, 50 gay Egyptians were arrested on the Queen Boat, a floating discotheque, for “fomenting strife.” Their full names and addresses were published in newspapers. The New York Times reports that since the 2013 rise of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have been arrested.

Mashrou’ Leila, as explained in their interview with “The New Arab,” aims to resist homophobia and repressive government tactics through their lyrics. However, they hope listeners recognize that their mode of resistance is not that special. The band expressed to “The New Arab,” “I think part of the reason for portraying us in this light [as a controversial band] is to help serve [the West’s] political agenda about the ‘Arab World.’” Nevertheless, Mashrou’ Leila will continue to perform and support the LGBTQ+ community in the Middle East. The band will be performing October 4th in San Francisco at Slim’s before teaching a class at New York University.

If you are interested in learning more about the life of LGBTQ+ individuals in Egypt check out the articles below:

Foreign Affairs: “The Suffering of Egypt’s Transgender Community”

CNN: “Living in fear: Egypt’s gay community”

The New York Times: “Gay and Transgender Egyptians, Harassed and Entrapped, Are Driven Underground”

Written by Michael Elsanadi

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