A major Lebanese music festival has cancelled a concert by the country’s best-known rock band, Mashrou’ Leila, “to prevent bloodshed” after church leaders accused the group of blasphemy.
The Byblos festival said it was forced to cancel the group’s performance next week on security grounds.
Critics of the band had threatened to attack the concert if it went ahead.
Mashrou’ Leila’s lead singer is openly gay and the band tackles taboos that few other Arab musicians have explored.
The Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Byblos said last week that Mashrou’ Leila’s songs “violate religious values” and demanded the gig be pulled.
Facebook users had threatened to stop the show by force, with some claiming to be “God’s Soldiers”.
Lawmakers in Byblos urged the festival’s organisers on Tuesday to pull the concert to “respect sanctities and morals”.
“In an unprecedented move… the committee was forced to stop the Mashrou’ Leila show … to prevent bloodshed and preserve security,” the festival announced just hours later.
On Monday, protests took place in the capital Beirut over what many have seen as a decline in freedom of expression in Lebanon, a country long seen as one of the more open in the Arab world.
“Cancelling the show will be a dangerous precedent,” LGBT rights activist George Azzi said on Tuesday. “If this repeats itself, it means Lebanon has entered a dark tunnel we will not get out of.”
The band, who have played across Lebanon including two shows in Byblos in recent years, blamed a “defamatory campaign” relying “exclusively on fabrications that couldn’t be further from the truth”.
“We are not on some sort of mission to arbitrarily blaspheme and disrespect people’s religious symbols,” it said in a statement.
This is not the first time Mashrou’ Leila have faced a backlash from social and religious conservatives in the region.
The band were blocked from playing in Jordan in 2016 after the music was deemed at odds with the “authenticity” of a Roman amphitheatre despite performing there three times before.
A year later, Egypt detained dozens after fans waved a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in a rare public show of support for LGBTQ rights.
The five band members, all ex-students at Beirut’s American University, came together in 2008, and have amassed an impressive following across the world.
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