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Mashrou’ Leila is Lebanon’s most renowned Rock band giving a voice to the youth through their powerful lyrics and liberal values promoting gender equality, freedom of speech, and boasting two openly gay members in a country where homosexuality is criminalized. Lebanon had been experiencing a rise in censorship of personal/artistic/political freedoms due to the growing hate speech propagated by certain conservative political/religious groups. Aug 2019, Mashrou’ Leila were scheduled to perform at the Byblos Festival however fundamentalist groups began a powerful lobbying/intimidation campaign against the band and the festival, threatening with violence if the concert were to take place. They accused the band of blasphemy, Satanism, and the promotion of homosexuality. Extremists across religions joined, applying social/political pressure on the Festival, with personal and public threats for violence forcing the Festival to cancel the concert for public security reasons.

The Strategy

In under a week, we had to move quickly to rally the Lebanese into participating. It was also important to capture the Lebanese diasporas across the globe as they were likely to share our liberal views. Our challenge was to show people that the LiL_Watan campaign transcended Mashrou’ Leila’s music and represented a much greater fight of preserving our freedom of expression regardless of their personal beliefs, so that they could always express them freely no matter what. We immediately mobilized teams to engage the media/political/journalistic/artistic figures/influencers/activists/venue owners across Lebanon with the challenge here being that most preferred avoiding the topic in order not to alienate a major part of their fanbase. We explained the significance and the importance of their participation as part of a national cause far greater than the music of Mashrou’ Leila, thus ensuring the proper reach and amplification.

The Execution

We launch a manifesto across social media featuring opinion leaders and citizens alike, inviting all Lebanese to play Mashrou’ Leila’s music on Aug 9. In a matter of days, UGC from 40 countries+ pours in with song covers/interpretive dances/streaming parties/dj mixes, and messages of support. Meanwhile we lobby for the support of Lebanon’s leading TV station which takes on our cause playing our manifesto and hosting a talk show entitled Lil_Watan. Activists plan a tribute concert, artist Yoyo Ma covers a Mashrou’ Leila song at the Byblos Festival, and band Within Temptation cancels their show in the Festival, all in support of our campaign. Aug 9: Mashrou Leila’s music blasts in every bar/car/home/street with major TV stations and radios joining the fight. When fundamentalists thought they could silence the voice of one band, millions of voices rose in the name freedom of expression, and the music played #Forthenation.

The Results

In a single week we were able to reverse the censorship imposed by the extremist religious groups: • Lebanese in over 40 countries participated • 1,500+ User Generated Content • Trending on Twitter and Apple Music • Over 400 venues joined • Over 600 million impressions • Total earned media value $6.3m Most importantly, we unsilenced what they tried to silence.

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