Donald Trump and his fake excuse and misdirected attack on the NFL players who are kneeling for social justice have some people saying it’s a sign of a leader cracking down on the First Amendment, which leads to an authoritarian state. Think that’s an overreach? Take a look at a similar issue in another country with an already-authoritarian state.
A few weeks ago at a concert in Cairo, Egypt, by a Lebanese band, Mashrou’ Leila, several people in the audience proudly waved the rainbow flag — and guess what happened? Police arrested seven people, reportedly for “promoting sexual deviancy,” even though there is no law against homosexuality in Egypt — no less against the rainbow flag.
The band issued the following statement: “Dear everyone, we were on a flight to New York, where we will be teaching a workshop for the next two months, when the media frenzy began. We have not yet commented about the situation in Cairo, as we have received conflicting reports, and honestly have not been able to figure out what is actually happening. Our trusted sources on the ground have not been able to verify anything pertaining to the arrests or the alleged ban on future performances. We hope everyone is safe and well, and appreciate your patience.”
According to the BBC, the Egyptian state news agency reported that public prosecutor Nabil Sadek ordered an investigation after images of the Pride flag being raised at the concert were uploaded on sites like Facebook and subsequently condemned by certain politicians and members of the media.
You might be surprised to know the band comes from Beirut, which at times is known as the Paris of the Middle East. I’ve been there a number of times and, like many others, I found it to be one of the most tolerant areas in the region. That attitude is the result of a delicate balancing act due to its neighboring countries and the culture of various religions that call it home, but somehow this one city has had a government whose members comprise a diversity of religions, which makes a statement that we can all live together.
After the flag incident, Mashrou Leila was banned from performing in Jordan. The band’s response and spirit should be applauded:
“We also have been unofficially informed that we will never be allowed to play again anywhere in Jordan due to our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom,” band members wrote. “We deeply regret having to cancel this event in this country that we have made our own. Jordan is the home of some of the most supportive, beautiful and kind people we have had the pleasure of working with and playing for. Jordan is also the only place where we get to perform for our Palestinian audience, who organize elaborate bus trips to come from Palestine to see us play. Jordan is the birthplace of our lead singer’s mother, a formative part of his identity and writing and a place we have always considered our second home.
“We denounce the systemic prosecution of voices of political dissent. We denounce the systemic prosecution of advocates of sexual and religious freedom. We denounce the censorship of artists anywhere in the world. We apologize for having thus far failed at creating a cultural environment that allows our children to speak their minds. We believe whole-heartedly that we have only ever acted with the intention of making our world a more equal and just place, even if ‘only through song.’ We pledge to our audience that we will continue to place the integrity of our art as our foremost priority, and to never succumb to the pressure to compromise our message or to waive our freedom to speak. We promise to continue to write out of love, and with the desire to spread love. We will fight, as we have always done, for our right to freely play our music and speak our mind.
“We urge our fellow musicians and artists across the world to continue to produce work that challenges any unfair status quo, despite the difficulties confronted.”
Egypt is about to open a new national museum to relaunch its lagging tourism campaign. It might want to rethink how this act looks to people who might want to visit that amazing country.
It’s a place I had hoped to revisit. As a gay man, am I no longer welcome?