Mashrou’ Leila, arguably the most popular alternative rock group in the Middle East, has disbanded after facing what members called a more stifling climate in Lebanon, where it originated in 2008, and the rest of the Arab world.
Known worldwide, the band’s shows were regular sell-out successes but members still faced harassment from officials cracking down on events celebrating LGBTQIA+ people, as well as a wave of hostility from clergymen and other people.
“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,” lead singer Hamed Sinno, who is openly gay, told the Sarde After Dinner podcast on Sunday.
In 2015 and 2016, their gigs in Jordan were cancelled, and in 2017, in a concert in Cairo, an Egyptian fan flying a rainbow flag would later be condemned by authorities as “inciting debauchery”. In 2019, Lebanon’s Byblos festival cancelled a Mashrou’ Leila concert “to prevent bloodshed” after calls from church leaders accusing the band of blasphemy and death threats on social media.
Amnesty International has previously blamed Lebanese authorities for failing to protect the musicians and called the cancellation of their concert “an alarming indicator” of Lebanon’s declining freedom of expression.
Rights groups and activists have been vocal about the pressure against the band as part of rising attacks on free speech and marginalised communities in Lebanon.
Shocked fans took to social media to express their disappointment over the news of Mashrou’ Leila’s disbanding, calling it the “end of an era”.
Mashrou' Leila disbanding is heartbreaking but I hope each member finds the best way to continue with their art and expression. We will miss their music and what they stood for in the Middle East and elsewhere.
— İlker Hepkaner (@hepkaner) September 13, 2022
Mashrou’ Leila might be officially disbanded now, but they’ll always be iconic. The band members deserve all the support. I’ve been hooked on their music since my 20s, when I saw a clip of Hamed Sinno, with their band, singing Shim El Yasmine on Leb TV. I’ll always be a fan 💜
— Elias Jahshan | الياس جهشان (@Elias_Jahshan) September 13, 2022
Others said the band’s songs resonated with them.
A tragic end to an era. I saw myself in Mashrou' Leila's music, often for the first time. Between Inni Mneeh and Shim el Yasmine–and many of their other songs–they really brought to life the intimacy of gender, sexuality, and sectarianism… https://t.co/RulZdP8FLI
— Miray Philips – ميراي فيلبس (@Mirayhp) September 12, 2022
Sinno, who told the podcast that Mashrou’ Leila’s band members are not “thinking of working together again for now”, responded to the fans by posting a story on Instagram saying: “Super grateful for the deluge of support since last night. I’m not going to respond to DMs and posts, but I want you to know that I see you, and I feel cradled and loved.”
As the curtain is drawn on the stages that have hosted Mashrou’ Leila, here are five songs of theirs to listen to:
- 1 – Fasateen
- 2 – Raksit Leila
- 3 – Bishuf
- 4 – Shim El Yasmine
- 5 – Lil Watan