I’ve cried to Shim El Yasmine, Inni Mnih and Bishuf more times than I would like to admit. But haven’t we (read: fruity gen-z Cairenes) all? Other than that, I’m pretty sure we all have memories attached to Mashrou’ Leila and their songs. From bonding over our love for them on first dates, to the open mics with wholesome people singing their hearts out, and dancing with friends to sad bops. Their music has been the soundtrack to our journey of self-discovery and acceptance as well as our resistance.
Some of us got to see Mashrou’ Leila perform in concert a few years ago. Those of us who didn’t go, saw the picture and many others from that night. We got to see our older siblings’ joy. We watched them smile and laugh and shine in the night sky as the band said goodbye to Cairo one last time, though they (and we) didn’t know it’ll be the last, then.That day a group was given visibility, and while the older community might not have needed that to prove their existence, the younger needed to feel seen, to feel like they belonged.
But their happiness was infiltrated with nervousness and fear. Being ‘seen’ didn’t quite end well. Because visibility without protection brings violence. And once again, we were watching, but this time we were angry and confused. We watched as one of our communities got brutalized just for being. I think, for a while, it felt like we were seeing our – and their – futures pan out before our eyes. Ones of dehumanization, aggression and ultimately, exile.
Mashrou’ Leila weren’t just a band, they represented safety in a way little else in the region did, at the time. Hamed Sinno did much for us, we grew up listening to his crooning voice comfort and validate many of our generation, community members or allies…marginalized kids, the lot of us. They (everyone who upholds anzemat el qam’) hate everything different, and we were raised internalizing their hatred and their cruelty as our own. But we all know, Mashrou’ Leila started out in the American University of Beirut’s Talent Show, literally translating their band name to ‘One Night’s Project’, because they only planned to perform that night. To continue to listen to Mashrou’ Leila today, to celebrate the last hurrah, is not only a small act of resistance (the only one we’re allowed) against an oppressive society, but it continues to be an act of resistance against everything we’ve internalized.
It serves as a reminder, to refuse to hate ourselves and each other, and also to refuse to be shunned and to shun, both. A refuge inside our own heads or maybe together, a sign and a marker both that proclaim safety, like a shining light in complete darkness. El sama ahla men el ard, indeed. Societies marginalize, dehumanize, torture, exile – they make it about God when it’s only about them and their laws and their versions of what’s okay – their morals, their egoes. It’s never been about them, it’s always been about us, those in the margins (no matter how or why or what makes us exist in the margins). But we stayed behind, we’re still staying behind, and we’re furious and hurt and unable to articulate our feelings. And even if we were able to, we can’t ever say anything out loud. We got robbed of our voices and then our right to live, and the ones responsible blame the murders of our loved ones on anything but themselves. We’ve been gathered though, whether anyone likes it or not, to mourn and grieve and commemorate our losses, as a generation and a group of marginalized people. But never without Mashrou’ Leila. A constant companion that never leaves, music that we can claim as our own when there’s little else that belongs to us – publicly.
Anger and sadness are really fucking messy feelings and finding the words to describe them is really hard. Mashrou’ Leila gave those of us who couldn’t speak a voice. They voiced our resilience but also our love and euphoria. They reminded us of our humanity when we needed it most. They may have gotten banned from playing in Cairo but their music still lives on in our streets… and so do we.
To stand with any community in the margins, is to stand with all communities in the margins.
She may have forgiven, but none of us will forget.