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Jordan bans popular Lebanese band on religious grounds

Published 27/04/2016

Hamed Sinno, lead singer and songwriter of Mashrou' Leila, performs with the band in the ancient Roman amphitheatre in the Jordanian capital Amman (AP)
Hamed Sinno, lead singer and songwriter of Mashrou' Leila, performs with the band in the ancient Roman amphitheatre in the Jordanian capital Amman (AP)

Jordan has banned a performance by a popular Lebanese band on religious grounds, leading to criticism of the kingdom which portrays itself as an island of tolerance in a turbulent region.

Mashrou' Leila (Leila's Project) is known internationally for violin-laced pop music with catchy Arabic lyrics. Songs often tackle controversial subjects such as corruption, censorship, state violence and sexual freedom.

Jordan's Antiquities Department initially said it would not permit a planned show at the Roman Theatre in the capital Amman later this week because it would contradict the "authenticity" of the ancient venue.

However, Amman district governor Khalid Abu Zeid said on Wednesday that the band's material "contradicts" the beliefs of the three Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Media analyst Hosni Ayesh said the decision to prevent Friday's performance at the last minute reflects a rise in religious fundamentalism in Jordan.

"The government wouldn't ban this band if the society was more open and tolerant," Mr Ayesh said.

"The government fears the society and some elements in the government are as conservative as the society."

The band is on a global tour promoting their latest album Ibn El-Leil (Son Of The Night), which boasts a cover image of a man with wings and a wolf mask.

Some local media in Jordan described the imagery as "satanic". Other Jordanians are organising a protest over the cancelled concert.

Guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, 28, said that the band was surprised to learn of the permit being denied.

He said the band had played at the same site three times before, as well as across Jordan.

The current pressure will make it "very tough for us to ever play in Jordan again", he said.

A conservative backlash against the liberal ideas of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 has led to a "catastrophic" rise in suppression of the arts, Mr Fakher added.

The band's "fame or notoriety" has made them a target, he said, adding: "It's really a very sad thing what is going on in the Arab world these days."

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