Northwestern cancels Mashrou’ Leila event in Qatar

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Northwestern cancels Mashrou’ Leila event in Qatar.

A US university’s Qatar branch has cancelled a scheduled event with Mashrou’ Leila, a popular pro-LGBTQ Lebanese band whose booking created controversy in the conservative emirate.

Two weeks after announcing the discussion about media revolutions in the Middle East, Northwestern University released a statement stating that both the band and the university had come to a “mutually agreed” decision to change the venue of their talk to the university’s campus in Illinois, USA.

“We hope that event will facilitate a larger discussion … about aspects of civil liberties and freedom of expression that are not always open to such discussions in all parts of the world,” the statement read, prompting many to believe the talk was cancelled due to anti-LGBTQ pressure in the country.

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Qatari social media users tweeted their rejection of the university’s decision to host the band with the hashtag #نرفض_محاضرة_مشروع_ليلى (we refuse Mahrou’ Leila’s discussion), citing the band’s values as contradictory with the country’s conservatism.

The cancellation of the event has raised questions over Qatar’s readiness to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and to accommodate hundreds of thousands of football fans from different cultural backgrounds and identities.

In November, the chief executive of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee, Nasser al-Khater, said no restrictions will be put on “any nationality or anybody with respect to their gender, race, orientation, religion to attend”, despite homosexuality being illegal in the emirate.

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Mashrou’ Leila, formed at the American University of Beirut in 2008, has been vocal in supporting equal rights, free speech and gay rights. Its lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay and has faced death threats.

This isn’t the first time the band has had appearances cancelled.

In July last year, Lebanon’s Byblos International Festival cancelled a concert following threats from conservative Christians. The gig was cancelled to “prevent bloodshed and to maintain security and stability”, the popular festival’s organisers said, in a decision denounced by rights groups.

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Controversy was sparked in Egypt in 2017 when spectators at the band’s show in Cairo waved rainbow flags, resulting in the arrest of 75 concert-goers and provoking a crackdown by authorities on the country’s LGBTQ community.

The group are yet to release a statement on the cancellation of their talk in Qatar and have not responded to a request from Middle East Eye to comment.

MEE has also asked Northwestern University for comment, but received no reply by the time of publication.

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