TEL AVIV — A gay pride flag flown by fans at a concert by the controversial Lebanese band Mashroo Layla (Night Project) has set off a storm in Egyptian media.
At a concert Saturday evening in Cairo by the Lebanese band famous for its songs that touch on many subjects considered taboo like homosexuality, religion and politics, fans raised a gay pride flag in what many Egyptians took as defiance from the gay community, making a statement that the community exists in Egypt and isn’t deterred from flaunting its actions or its members.
Seven fans were reportedly arrested for the incident and charged with “inciting immorality,” according to authorities.
Homosexuality in Egypt often earns community members judicial punishment that may even extend to prison sentences, though it isn’t specifically forbidden by law.
Conservatives in the Arab world are not eager to allow the band to perform. Last year, authorities in Jordan decided to ban a concert by the band at a famous Roman amphitheater in the kingdom, claiming that the band’s songs oppose Jordanian morals.
In response, the band released a statement saying that it was determined not to quit or succumb to pressure meant to restrict their freedom of speech.
The mere fact that the concert was held in Cairo, and especially the flying of the gay pride flag, as well as the massive public response, led senior officials in Egypt to address the issue.
Anger from conservatives in the media rose as the scandal dominated social media in the country.
Presenter Muhamad al-Geyti used his program Sah al-Noum (Good Morning) to attack the band, saying, “All the perverts have gathered in Egypt. This whole abomination took place in the country of the Al-Azhar institution.” Al-Azhar is considered the most important religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world.
Al-Geyti used the event to criticize one of his competitors, the presenter, comedian and satirist Bassem Youssef, who fled to the U.S. last year due to pressure from supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Al-Geyti said, “Bassem Youssef is the reason for everything that’s happening. He supports the band after hosting it on his show, claiming that he supports homosexuality. They are homos and I wonder how the director of the association of musicians approved a performance by this band in Egypt.”
Senior television presenter Amro Adeeb also addressed the subject on his show Every Day, saying, “I know that the homosexuals will curse me. And as long as they are making their voices and their demands heard, I also get to criticize them. I won’t let them oppress me just because I, a straight man, criticize the holding of a party for homosexuals in Egypt.”
Reda Rajab, a secretary of the Association of Musical Professionals, said that the association had decided to cancel all future concerts by the band.
“We are not a source of oppression, but these kinds of concerts won’t be held in Egypt,” he said.
In an interview on the television program The Egyptian Street, Rajab said, “The association is against all perverted art. We aren’t responsible for these concerts. Concerts require the approval of three sources, of which the association is just one. The Work Ministry and General Security Ministry are the other two sources.”
Members of Parliament also condemned the concert and the flying of the gay pride flag. MP Abla al-Hawari, representing the Suhaj district in the Egyptian delta, said that if the concert had been held in the delta, the people would have killed those who participated in the concert.
“This is a disgrace, all those (men) who wear earrings and are happy about it,” he said. “The security forces should arrest those who raised the flag of the perverts.”
Indeed, a few days after the concert, as investigations into the raising of the gay pride flag progressed, Egyptian security forces announced they had arrested the seven participants in the concert who posted on social media that they are proud of their “sexual orientation” and the flying of the flag.
Egyptian media cited security sources as saying, “Due to the abomination shown during the concert, a senior team of investigators has been established and intelligence personnel managed to use security cameras at the concert to identify those who displayed these opinions and raised the flag.”
The seven were handed over to Egyptian prosecutors.
Egyptian MP Mustafa Bakri said that, in his opinion, this wasn’t a spontaneous raising of the flag, but a planned assault on Egypt.
According to Bakri, the incident came as Western countries are pressuring Egypt to accept gay marriage. “What’s happening is a disaster,” he said. “This contradicts our opinions and values and the relevant people must investigate the incident.”