Mashrou' Leila Gig Called Off over 'Bloodshed' Fears
The organizers of the Byblos International Festival on Tuesday said they have called off the performance of world famous Lebanese rock band Mashrou' Leila to avert any "bloodshed."
The gig had been scheduled for Friday, August 9.
“In an unprecedented step and as a result of the successive developments, the (organizing) committee has decided to call off the Mashrou’ Leila concert scheduled for the evening of Friday, August 9 to prevent bloodshed and to preserve security and stability, contrary to the practices of some parties,” the organizers said.
“We regret what happened and we apologize to the fans,” they added.
A senior Maronite church source meanwhile told MTV that the decision aims to "avoid any security disruption that might result from this concert."
The decision is "a very rational action," the source added.
The cancellation follows online death and violence threats against the band and its fans and calls by Christian groups for the performance to be scrapped.
Mashrou' Leila, whose singer is openly gay and whose outspoken Arabic lyrics tackle often taboo social issues, sparked controversy in Lebanon earlier this month.
Lebanese Christian clerics called for the band to cancel their August 9, charging that two of their songs -- titled "Idols" and "Djin" -- were offensive to Christians.
There was no immediate reaction from Mashrou' Leila but activists and fans condemned the cancellation as an attack on freedom of expression in the country.
"This is a step back for Lebanon, which has always prided itself on embracing diversity and being a center for music, art and culture in the region," said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.
On Monday, dozens of Lebanese held a protest in downtown Beirut objecting to the proposed ban and rejecting attempts by Christian clergymen and some right wing groups to ban the group.
"Regardless of our opinion of the songs and the band, we need to defend freedom of expression, because freedom is for everyone and for everybody. The day it stops, it stops for everybody," said writer and director Lucien Bourjeily.
Also on Monday, the Catholic Media Center, an authority that works with Lebanese authorities to censor artistic content, reiterated calls for the concert's cancellation.
It accused the band of prompting "ideas and actions that are offensive to the faith and its religious symbols."
- 'Why didn't they apologize?' -
The band issued a statement earlier this month saying they "respected all religions and their symbols," and were saddened by "the distortion of the lyrics of some of our songs."
They were expected to hold a press conference to issue a formal apology so the concert could go ahead, under an agreement between the Byblos festival and Lebanese authorities.
"We tried as much as possible to reach a solution... Why didn't they apologize?" asked the festival's artistic director, Naji Baz.
"I'm not sure an apology would have been enough anyway because things got out of control," Baz added.
Baz said organizers had no choice but to cancel the concert, which would have attracted a turnout of around 4,000 people.
"The situation became hysterical with direct threats being made to the security and safety of the audience and the performers," he told AFP.
Mashrou' Leila have often played in Lebanon since forming in 2008 while its members were still students at the American University of Beirut.
But it has created waves in the religiously conservative Middle East.
They have sparked controversy in Egypt and were banned from performing in Jordan.
After a Mashrou' Leila concert in Egypt in 2017, at which members of the audience waved a rainbow flag, Egyptian authorities launched a crackdown on the country's LGBT community.
Religiously diverse Lebanon is one of the Middle East's more liberal countries, but its myriad of recognized sects still wield major influence over social and cultural affairs.