They sparked controversy in Egypt, and were banned from performing in Jordan. Now alternative rock band Mashrou' Leila might have a concert cancelled at home in Lebanon over alleged offence to religion. The Lebanese group, whose singer is openly gay and whose Arabic lyrics tackle a range of social issues, is rarely outspoken for the region's music scene. They have often played in Lebanon since forming in 2008 while its members were still students at the American University of Beirut.
But now several religious figures have called for the cancellation of an upcoming concert on August 9 in the seaside town of Byblos, seemingly over a graphic mash-up using an image of the Virgin Mary. The overwhelmingly Christian town's Maronite archbishop on Monday asked for the gig to be cancelled over the "group's aims and the content of their songs".

They "undermine religious and human values, attack sacred symbols of Christianity", he said in a statement. The Catholic Information Centre, an authority that works with the Lebanese authorities to censor artistic content, called the group a "danger to society". "It is not permissible to insult religions under the guise of freedoms," said its head Father Abdu Abu Kassa. The complaints seem to have been made after lead singer Hamed Sinno on Facebook shared an article containing an image in which the Virgin Mary's face had been replaced by that of American pop star Madonna.

The director of the Byblos International Festival said it was working on solving this issue out of the public eye. The band on Monday in a statement said they "respected all religions and their symbols", and they were saddened by "wrong interpretations" and "the distortion of the lyrics of some of our songs". Former lawmaker for Byblos, Fares Said, came to the band's defense. "Boycott if you want, it's your right. But let Lebanon retain its taste of freedom," he wrote on Twitter.

After a Mashrou' Leila concert in Egypt in 2017, at which members of the audience waved a rainbow flag, the authorities launched a crackdown on the country's LGBT community. Its concerts in Jordan were cancelled in 2016 and 2017. Same-sex acts between consenting adults in private are treated as a criminal offence in most of the Arabic-speaking world.-AFP