Police in Cairo arrested seven men for flying Pride flags at a rock concert Saturday. If convicted, they face up to two years in prison.
The incident occurred at a sold-out concert by Mashrou’ Leila that drew some 35,000 people to Cairo Festival City.
Mashrou’ Laila’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay.
today in cairo while mashrou leila were performing pic.twitter.com/AwI5qeTuAH
— nada (@spideiboy) September 22, 2017
Officers scanned security footage to identify the flag-wavers, whom Egyptian media has called guilty of “the promotion of corruption and immorality.” On Sunday, the Musicians Syndicate announced the group was officially banned from performing in Egypt.
On Facebook, the Islamist Al Nour political party said parliament should take action against the band, and demanded that whomever issuing permits for the concert be punished, as well.
Public reaction to the incident has been mixed: On Twitter, one commenter asked, “How did the country allow this gay band to enter Egypt? They should be locked up.”
But in a blog post, trans advocate Maha Mohamed called the concert “a historic day.”
“For the first time in history of Egypt, young people of the LGBTQ community raised rainbow flags in the Cairo sky, at Mashrou’ Leila’s concert, declaring our existence and right to live freely and proudly.”
— Mashrou' Leila (@mashrou3leila) September 23, 2017
A rainbow flag reportedly flew at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo in March 2016, leading Sinno to remark “Whoever you are, your courage is bloody inspiring.”
Formed nearly a decade ago by students in Beirut, Mashrou’ Leila (“overnight project” in Arabic) doesn’t shy away from addressing queer issues in its music: ”Shim el Yasmine (Smell the Jasmine)” addresses a young man’s desire to introduce his boyfriend to his parents, while “Tayf (Ghost)” is about a shuttered gay club.
That openness has cost them: They’ve been banned in Jordan and even in Lebanon, Sinno told NewNowNext, “We live under what resembles feudal dictatorship… with very little freedom for the LGBT community.”