February 26, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8590

Homophobia In Qatar: Cancellation Of Event With Rock Band Whose Lead Singer Is Gay; Article Against Children’s Book 'Promoting Homosexuality'

February 26, 2020
Qatar | Special Dispatch No. 8590

Several expressions of homophobia have recently been noted in Qatar, where same-sex relations are prohibited by law. In early February, the Doha branch of the American Northwestern University canceled an event that was scheduled to be held on February 4,2020 with the participation of Mashrou' Leila, a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay and some of whose songs deal with sexuality, including homosexuality.[1]The event was canceled after Qataris launched a campaign against it on Twitter, claiming that Mashrou' Leila represents values opposed to those of Qatari society. According to some reports in the Qatari media, the event was cancelled following the intervention of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, headed by Sheikha Moza bint Nassir, the mother of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani, which oversees the foreign universities in the country.

 While many in Qatar welcomed the canceling of the event with Mashrou' Leila, some Arab websites and social media users strongly condemned the decision. They accused Qatar of hypocrisy and noted that its conduct contravened its commitment to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to avoid any discrimination against any individual, including gays, during the 2022 World Cup, which is to take place in Qatar.

Another prominent recent expression of homophobia was a January 21, 2020 article in the government Qatari daily Al-Sharq about a translated children's book that had been presented at the Doha international book fair and which, according to the paper, has a hidden agenda of promoting homosexuality. The article claimed that the publication of the book in Arabic was part of a conspiracy to spread the "moral crime" and "sick phenomenon" of homosexuality, which is rampant in the West, in Arab societies. In July 2019, Al-Sharq published another article, by Qatari journalist Ahmad Al-Mohannadi, which called to fight the "perversion" of homosexuality that is spreading in Qatar, by every possible means.       

This report reviews the Mashrou' Leila affair, and presents translated excerpts from the two homophobic Al-Sharq articles.

Qatari Twitter Campaign Leads To Cancelling Of Event With Rock Band Whose Lead Singer Is Gay

On February 2, 2020, the Doha branch of the U.S.-based Northwestern University planned to hold a public event with the members of the Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay. According to the invitation, the band members were to speak about their art and about the inspiration for their songs, which deal with sexuality as well as with civil liberties and freedom of speech.[2]

Invitations to the talk with Mashrou' Leila on the Northwestern University campus in Doha (Sources:, January 25, 2020)

(, January 23, 2020)

Qatari MP Hind Al-Muftah responded to his call, expressing her appreciation for the "high-quality education" dispensed by Northwestern University, but stressing that Qatar's "religion and culture are [a] RED LINE. Full stop."[4] 

Qatari journalist Eman Al-Ka'bi tweeted in a similar vein: "We are neither racist nor backward. The gist of the matter is: Qatar is a red line."[5]  Qatari author Mohsen Fahad Al-Hajri tweeted headlines from the Arabic media highlighting Mashrou' Leila's affiliation with the gay community, and expressed concern for the young generation, tweeting: "Where are [our] education, values and morality?! Have we reached such a moral low that, in the name of education and freedom [we hold] dialogue and debates with perverts and prostitutes in the guise of education on an academic campus?! Will the singer Shakira[6] and these filthy people [Mashrou' Leila] be the ones to educate your children and hold a dialogue with them?! What results to you except [to achieve this way]?!"[7] 

Mohsen Al-Hajri's tweet

Qatari online activist Fahad Buzwair tweeted on January 31 that he had voiced his concern about the event to the Qatar Foundation, which was established in 1995 by the former Emir and is headed by Sheikha Moza, the mother of the present Emir, and which oversees the foreign universities in Qatar. The foundation, he said, replied that the event indeed "contravenes [its] message, which focuses on respecting the customs and traditions of the authentic Qatari society and the laws of the state," and that it had asked Northwestern University to cancel it.[8] The Qatari media, including the government daily Al-Sharq and the Al-Jazeera website, likewise reported that the Qatar Foundation had intervened to cancel the event.[9]  

Following the public outcry, Northwestern University indeed announced that it had canceled the talk with Mashrou' Leila at the Doha campus and would instead hold the event at its home campus in Evanston. The announcement stated:

"…Members of the band were scheduled to participate in a discussion about media revolutions in the Middle East. The band, which has been vocal in its support of equal rights, is an important global voice on issues of free speech, gay rights and politics. After discussing the planned visit with band members, the University and Mashrou' Leila mutually agreed to change the venue of their talk to our home campus in Evanston… We hope that the event will facilitate a larger discussion around the ideas that drive the band's art and music - and about aspects of civil liberties and freedom of expression that are not always open to such discussions in all parts of the world."[10]

Northwestern University's announcement

The university's director of media relations, Jon Yates, said that the decision had been made for several reasons, including "safety concerns for the band."[11]

Qataris welcomed the decision to cancel the event. Journalist Hassan Hamoud tweeted: "[The event] was canceled thanks to the voices of the honorable people of this homeland. [Mashrou’ Leila,] you are bound to be disappointed every time you try to undermine the moral values of our society, because the bad produce [you are trying to sell us] is unacceptable. We thank all the sane people, and [may] the perverts find no solace."[12] Activist Fahad Buzwair wrote: "Many thanks to all the writers who stood like a solid wall against this unacceptable activity in our beloved homeland of Qatar."[13]

Arabs Criticize Qatar's Hypocrisy: What Will Happen In The World Cup?

Following the event's cancellation, writers in the Arab press, as well as Arab social media users, wondered whether Qatar was qualified to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, in light of its attitude towards the LGBT community.[14] They pointed to the contrast between the cancellation of the Northwestern University’s event and Qatar’s media statements and commitment to adhere to FIFA's human rights and non-discrimination policies during the World Cup. They mentioned statements by Nasser Al-Khater, head of Qatar's 2022 World Cup organizing committee, to CNN, that Qatar would welcome everyone attending the World Cup, regardless of "gender, race, orientation [and] religion".[15] They also noted that, on January 21, 2020, Qatar and FIFA published their joint strategy for the World Cup, which, inter alia, prohibits any discrimination against any individual, group or state on the basis of race, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, disability, language, religion, etc.[16] Emirati media figure Hussein Rashid Al-Hamadi tweeted: "Homosexuals will be allowed to attend the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and Qatar will suspend the law banning homosexuality, whether it likes it or not. [Yet] yesterday, Qatar canceled a talk by Mashrou’ Leila because one of the band members is gay. Contradiction and confusion have evidently taken over all spheres of life in the mini-state of Qatar."[17]

Hussein Rashid Al-Hamadi’s tweet

Qatari Government Paper Denounces Children’s Book Presenting Gay Parents: It Is "A Moral Crime" And "A Sick Phenomenon"

Another recent expression of homophobia in Qatar was a January 21, 2020 article in the government daily Al-Sharq that came out against a children’s book that had been presented at the international book fair in Doha. The book, titled "Diversity," by Canadian writer Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, was published in Arabic by ABC Publishers, which specializes in translating children’s books to and from Arabic.[18] The article stated that the book purports to deal with cultural diversity, but actually uses images and colors to insidiously promote the "unhealthy phenomenon" and "moral crime" of homosexuality, which is rampant in the West.

The article said: "Yesterday a father came into the Al-Sharq offices, outraged. He was carrying a book… that he had recently bought for his children at the 30th international book fair in Doha. Leafing through it, he noticed that it includes images, stories and symbols that refer to the phenomenon which poses the greatest threat to public morals in conservative societies, namely the phenomenon of homosexuality, which is rampant in some Western societies. The father demanded to increase the oversight of children’s books, and called to punish anyone who dares to corrupt the minds and the behavior of [our] children.

"The book, titled ‘Diversity,’ is translated from English. This indicates that its selection by the Arab publishing house, which specializing in schoolbooks and educational materials, was not innocent. The book purports to deal with cultural diversity, as manifested in cuisine, dress and lifestyle, and also with diversity within societies, etc. But its hidden agenda is to promote the moral crime of homosexuality using illustrations and colors. Some of the illustrations present a boy who lives with two women. These women appear in more than one scene in the story, including in a picture that hangs on the wall of the home. There is also an illustration of the boy sleeping between them or sitting with them eating candy. Another section of the book, headed "parents", shows a boy riding a bicycle with two men, in a puzzling and reprehensible pose, as part of that sick Western phenomenon that is alien to our Arab societies.

The Al-Sharq article on the book Diversity, presenting illustrations from the book

"The publishing house found in this book a means to spread this phenomenon among the youth in a clever and systematic manner, using attractive pictures that take up most of the page, and contrast with brief texts that refer to the crime. The danger of the aforementioned illustration is that it may guide the child’s thinking, especially if he is between the ages of 6 and 10, and cause him to wonder: Why are these two men riding the bike with the boy in this manner, while I ride a bike in a different way? Later the boy will try to imitate the pose shown in the picture, and his brothers and playmates may imitate him.

 "Another illustration in the book shows children aged 2-10 drawing the homosexual rainbow flag, for these attractive colors have become the symbol of those sick individuals… This [homosexuality] is a patently Western trend, and a [beautiful] graphic [symbol] was invented for it, in order to infiltrate Arab society and wreak havoc with its youth. 

"This pseudo-educational publication apparently aims to bring this sick foreign phenomenon into [our] society and spread it using words and colors, thus transforming the book from [the child’s] best friend into a ticking bomb within the family and the school environment.

"The father, who found in Al-Sharq the means to confront despicable publications of this sort, understood the danger [posed by the book] that fell into his hands and which he paid for without noticing its poisonous content. [He also realized] that keeping silent about it or ignoring it may destroy everything that has been built over the years and even distort the reality that has taken shape in [our] collective mind, [namely the value of] diversity in its positive sense. [This value] pervades the Arab and Muslim countries, which draw their principles and values from Islam, the constitution of all Muslims worldwide.”[19]

Qatari Journalist: Homosexuality Is A "Moral Perversion"To Be Fought By Every Means

On July 15, 2019, Al-Sharq published another homophobic article, by journalist Ahmad Al-Mohannadi, titled "Trying to Look Like Women," in which he warned about the "moral perversions" of homosexuality and transgenderism in Qatari society. He wrote: "…We must keep a close eye on our boys and verify who their friends are, and if we notice that these friends wear tight clothing we must nip the friendship in the bud... In addition, [we must] forbid them to receive gifts or money from anyone, for [people's] image can change and someone we regarded as an angel can reveal his true face and immediately become a devil and bloodsucker.

"In addition, the role of the school is to be strict, rather than lenient, with any student it suspects [of such leanings], and to monitor him. If he turns out to be a 'homosexual,' [the school must] not only suggest he see a social worker but also refer him to a psychologist and suggest [that he consult] a religious mentor, and finally take deterring action against him as a lesson to others.

"As for the other relevant authorities – the Preventive Security Department and the authorities in charge of fighting this disease – they must raid [the homosexuals'] hideouts, even if they are on someone's private property, no matter who he is, for the good of the collective supersedes the good of the individual. I hope that religious awareness of this phenomenon will be spread and that the media will turn a spotlight on it..."[20]



[1] This is not the first time Mashrou’ Leila has been censored in the Arab world. For example, in 2016 and 2017, Jordan canceled the band’s performances in the country, claiming that they offended public sensibilities and contravened the values of Jordanian society. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1342, Public Debate In Jordan On Freedoms And Values Following Ban On Rock Band With Gay Singer, September 5, 2017.

[2], January 25, 2020.

[3], January 31, 2020.

[4], February 1, 2020.

[5], February 2, 2020.

[6] Shakira visited Qatar in November 2019 as a guest of the Qatar Foundation., November 22, 2019.

[7], January 28, 2020.

[8], January 31, 2020.

[9] Al-Sharq (Qatar), February 1, 2020;, February 3, 2020.

[10], February 3, 2020.

[11], February 3, 2020.

[12] BoHomoud007, February 1, 2020.

[13], February 2, 2020.

[14] See e.g., Al-Arab (UAE), February 6, 2020;, February 5, 2020;, February 9, 2020;, February 4, 2020.

[15], November 18, 2019.

[16], January 21, 2020.

[17], February 4, 2020.


[19] Al-Sharq (Qatar), January 21, 2020.

[20] Al-Sharq (Qatar), July 15, 2019. For more excerpts from the article, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8211, Qatari Journalist: We Must Use Any Means To Fight The 'Moral Perversion' Of Homosexuality That Is Spreading In Our Country, August 5, 2019.

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