It’s hard to talk about sex in Arabic, leave alone singing about gay sex because the taboo—both formal and informal—restricts everything from music and movies to the education system at the expense of human rights, reports noisey.vice.com.
Media continues to adhere to this standard, creating some of the most self-censored music by never singing about men marrying other men until Mashrou’ Leila began singing about it.
With this the band has set out to change the Arab pop music which the group saw as hackneyed and too complacent with cultural limitations on sexuality, reported noisey.vice.com.
Lead singer Hamed Sinno, who is openly gay, made it a point to pen lyrics indicative of his own life than on the clichéd “boy meets girl” subject that has monopolized the Arabic-speaking music industry.
In “Shim el Yasmine,” he sings about a man whom he wanted to introduce to his parents as his groom, and for the past six years, Mashrou’ Leila has sung about gay rights in a country that doesn’t have any.
This makes them the first Arabic-speaking rock band to discuss gay rights, even though the subject is illegal.
Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits same sex relations that it says “contradicts the laws of nature” and same sex couples are met with arrests on the streets and in homes, along with a year in jail.
The arrests are often targeted at cultural hubs that influence Lebanon’s youth towards a more tolerant lifestyle.
At the request of the mayor of Dekwaneh, a Beirut suburb, police recently raided and shut down various gay-friendly nightclubs in the capital.
The police then humiliated club goers by making them undress and be photographed naked in the municipal headquarters.
Since they began in 2008, Mashrou’ Leila lyrics have charted the progression of gay rights but the band doesn’t claim to speak for anyone. “It would be crippling to actually try to speak for others the way others often assume we should,” guitarist Firas Abou Fakher told noisey.vice.com.
Mashrou’ Leila’s lyrics made Arabic Indie Rock the loudest advocate for human rights, and specifically gay rights, in the Arab world.
Once they started singing about sex, more people began talking about sex. Now the cultural stigma around the issue is rapidly changing, reported noisey.vice.com.
Lebanese LGBT rights organizations such as Helem have held lectures and demonstrations. Meem, a lesbian NGO, offers legal support and human rights advocacy.
Mashrou’ Leila’s insistence on the subject matter in music was a welcomed change for many, allowing the topic of gay rights to seep into the cultural mainstream.
Last year, Lebanon became the first Arab country to declassify same sex relations as a “disease,” and just this month a Beirut judge ruled out a case against a transgender woman, arguing that Article 534 should not be applied to same sex couples, as gay sex is not “unnatural.”
But Mashrou’ Leila says any celebration is short lived as Lebanon doesn’t have a legal precedent system and the next judge can just as easily apply Article 534 to same sex couples in the next case.
Moreover institutions such as gay marriage, gays in the military, adoption by gay couples, recognition of gay couples, and anti-discrimination codes in the workplace are all still illegal, it added.
You may watch and listen to the ‘Shim el Yasmine’ song from Mashrou’ Leila here: