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Qatar event with pro-LGBT band cancelled amid social media furore

Northwestern University in Qatar cancelled a media discussion featuring a popular Arab band whose lead singer is openly gay for “safety reasons”, the institution said Tuesday, amid social media furore.

The American university said it invited the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, one of the most popular music groups in the region, to a talk at its Doha branch about Middle Eastern media revolutions this week but then moved the event to its Evanston, Illinois campus.

“The decision to move the discussion to Evanston was made mutually between Northwestern and members of Mashrou’ Leila,” Jon Yates, director of Northwestern University-Qatar’s media relations, told AFP.

“The decision was made out of an abundance of caution due to several factors, including safety concerns for the band and our community.

“Because Northwestern firmly believes that the band’s ideas, their art and their voices are important for the world to hear, the university is working to bring them to our home campus in the US.”

The band, whose Arabic lyrics tackle a range of taboo topics, faced backlash from conservatives online who objected to the planned event with the Arabic hashtag “We reject Mashrou’ Leila’s discussion”.

One Twitter user said the event would have been acceptable if it were a debate but criticised the band for “vomiting on us their belief in the form of a lecture”.

This comes as Qatar gears up to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, whose organisers last year said all fans — including members of the LGBT community — would be welcome.

Qatar, like all other Gulf countries, bans homosexuality.

Religiously diverse Lebanon is one of the Middle East’s more liberal countries, but its myriad of recognised sects still wield major influence over social and cultural affairs.

While Mashrou’ Leila has often played in Lebanon, it has attracted controversy across the religiously conservative Middle East.

Last year, a top Lebanese music festival cancelled a Mashrou’ Leila concert for security reasons, after the group was accused of offending Christians.

After audience members waved a rainbow flag during a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Egypt in 2017, Egyptian authorities launched a crackdown on the country’s LGBT community.

Its concerts in Jordan were cancelled in 2016 and 2017.

The group formed in 2008 while its members were students at the American University of Beirut.