Indie fans arrested for 'raising the flag of homosexuals' at Egypt concert

Seven people were arrested for waving rainbow flags at a concert of Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou' Leila in CairoREUTERS/JamalSaidi

Egyptian police have arrested seven people for allegedly waving rainbow flags at a rock concert in Cairo last week.

The fans were caught on camera holding up rainbow flags at the concert of Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou' Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay.

Homosexuality is not explicitly banned under Egyptian law, but LGBT people are routinely arrested on charges of "debauchery", "blasphemy" and "immorality" in the conservative country.

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More than 250 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have been arrested since a military coup established Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president in 2013, according to an investigation by the New York Times.

The seven concertgoers were detained on Monday (25 September) for "promoting sexual deviancy" at the concert, but have not yet been formally charged.

Security officials said they were arrested after authorities saw pictures of them "raising the flag of homosexuals".

Reda Ragab, the deputy head of Egypt's Syndicate of Musical Professions, told Al Assema news channel that Mashrou' Leila would be banned from performing in Egypt in future.

"While the role of the Syndicate of Musical Professions is not repressive... we prevent such bands and musicians from getting on stage because they perform abnormal art," Ragab said, according to the Egypt Independent.

"We are a religious, conservative society, an identity we need to preserve," Ragab told the online publication Daily News Egypt. "This is a scandal against our traditions and far from serious and meaningful art."

Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy condemned the arrests and criticised the syndicate for banning Mashrou' Leila.

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"It is utterly ridiculous to arrest anyone for waving a flag. It is utterly ridiculous to arrest anyone for their sexuality as #Egypt does," she wrote on Twitter.

Hussein Baoumi, Egypt campaigner for Amnesty International, described the arrests as "deeply worrying."

"It is absurd that the authorities are investigating this as a criminal act," he said. "Arresting people for expressing solidarity with LGBTI individuals is an outrageous violation of the right to freedom of expression. No one should face arrest based on their sexual orientation or expressing their opinion.

"The LGBTI community in Egypt have faced widespread harassment and discrimination and this latest incident further highlights the entrenched stigma and homophobia that exists in the country, in law and in practise," he added.

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Mashrou' Leila has previously twice been banned from performing in Jordan. The band described the concert in Cairo as "one of the best shows we've ever played."

"Was an honour to play to such a wonderful crowd! So much love!" the band wrote on its Facebook page.

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