The lead singer of a Lebanese rock band, which has courted controversy for its songs dealing with homophobia and sexism, has urged more men to champion women’s rights in the Middle East.
Hamed Sinno, the openly gay frontman of Mashrou’ Leila, also called for more women in politics and for discriminatory laws to be repealed.
“No one is saying that we should arbitrarily just get rid of all men in power and substitute them with women, but there is a question about … why it is that we still have this many issues with women’s representation, with women in government and other rights,” he said.
Mashrou’ Leila, which is on a world tour, has made headlines for singing about subjects that are largely taboo in the Arabic pop scene, including politics, religion, social justice, and sexual freedom.
The group has garnered a loyal following in the Middle East, but has also received death threats on social media and was banned from playing in Jordan last month.
Jordanian parliamentarian Dima Tahboub suggested in media interviews that the ban was linked to Sinno’s homosexuality.
In a statement on Facebook, Mashrou’ Leila said the ban was symptomatic of “the fanatical conservatism that has contributed in making the region increasingly toxic over the last decade”.
Speaking by phone from New York, Sinno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation there was a lot of work to be done in the struggle for gender equality in the Middle East.
He criticized the lack of female representation in government in the region, wage inequality, women’s right to govern their own bodies, and Lebanon’s rape laws, which include a provision that allows a rapist to avoid punishment by marrying his victim.
The 29-year-old American-Lebanese singer said men should celebrate the achievements of leading women in the Middle East and he praised Muslim feminists, including the writers Mona Eltahawy and Maya Mikdashi, for “disturbing patriarchal codes”.
Sinno, who has described his all-male band as “extremely vocal feminists”, also said he was fed up of western stereotyping of Middle Eastern women as “passive”.
The band’s new music video by female Lebanese director Jessy Moussallem – released last week with their song “Roman” – is intended to challenge the way Muslim and Arab women are portrayed, he said.
The video shows dozens of women wearing traditional Islamic dress uniting around a powerful central figure who performs a striking contemporary dance wearing an abaya (loose-fitting robe) and hijab. Sinno said the video was a celebration of Muslim women’s ability to empower each other.
The male members of the band take a backseat in the video. “Having men there not doing anything was basically what the point was,” Sinno added.