It was a beautiful night for Mashrou' Leila. Over 35,000 concertgoers showed up to see the Lebanese band and two other Arab rock groups perform at the daylong Music Park Festival in an upscale suburb of Cairo, Egypt, late last September. During their set, spotlights glittered in carnivalesque colors and mega-screens displayed images of a woman wearing a hijab doing interpretive dance – a clip from the music video for their popular song "Roman" – as they strutted through their funky, violin-adorned, socially-engaged indie rock.
During the show, fans were photographed waving a rainbow flag – the universal symbol of gay pride – in solidarity with the group. Singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay, and the band has long been outspoken about LGBTQ issues in their music and public statements. In the days afterwards, the images circulated on social media and Egyptian TV commentators and newspapers turned it into a public scandal. The local musicians' syndicate banned Mashrou' Leila from playing in the country, and Egyptian authorities launched what activists and human rights observers are now saying is the worst-ever crackdown on the country's gay community, arresting dozens on "debauchery" charges.
"The concert itself for us was just magical," Sinno recalls to Rolling Stone with a heavy sigh. "It felt like such a loving, happy audience. It's been really difficult, sort of hitting that high and then having it get perverted into what it is now." Read more via Rolling Stone