Anghami: 'Middle East Spotify' drawn into Lebanese political controversy

Employee, whose tweet landed the company in dispute, says she didn't intend to insult the president

(L-R) Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib, co-creators of Anghami, at Anghami Headquarter offices. Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform and digital distribution company in the Arab World region launched in November 2012 providing unlimited Arabic and International music to stream and download for offline mode.

Photo by Natalie Naccache for The National

An employee at the Middle East’s leading music streaming service, whose tweet landed the company in the middle of a political dispute, denies she was spreading rumours of the Lebanese president’s ill-health.

There were calls for a boycott of Anghami, the Middle East’s answer to Spotify with more than 55 million users, after its editorial lead Christine Habib tweeted in Arabic on Monday: “We will not pay you the last honours. You killed all of us before dying."

Ms Habib did not name Lebanese President Michel Aoun, 85, but sparked an angry response from his supporters on social media under the hashtag #boycottAnghami.

As anger grew, a movement took to social media to express support for the company and Ms Habib.

A former reporter with local television network Al Jadeed, Ms Habib told The National that she had not insulted Mr Aoun.

“Maybe the timing was a bit wrong but the tweet could have been about any other leader or even the country," she said.

"I have previous tweets saying, ‘Rest in peace, Lebanon’.”

Ms Habib said her tweet was in reference to the country's severe social and economic crisis caused by decades of mismanagement and corruption.

Lebanon's currency is in near-freefall, unemployment is rising rapidly and living standards are deteriorating.

Mr Aoun’s office has denied claims in local media about the president’s ill health, writing on Twitter that “appropriate legal measures” would be taken against “those who promote malicious rumours".

Ms Habib said she was not referring to the rumours in her message.

“There were rumours about him being hospitalised or dead, but I was not following these rumours because I was very busy this weekend," she said.

Ms Habib said she was shocked by the size of the backlash, saying some Twitter users dug up pictures of her parents to attack her.

“They told me, 'We hope you bury them tomorrow, and we hope there’ll be nobody at their funeral'," she said. "That was the part that hurt me the most.

“The support was way bigger than the hatred and that makes me feel a bit better today. Yesterday was hard."

Anghami’s Lebanese co-founder, Elie Habib, who is not related to his employee, responded on Twitter, saying political infighting was harmful to Lebanon as it struggles with its worst financial crisis.

“Today, because of a tweet that's not endorsed by our company from a personal account, I read calls to fire an employee and boycott Anghami," Mr Habib said.

"In contrast, others warn of retaliation with counter boycotts if the employee is fired. That's our sad Lebanon life.

“As a country, we've suffered through wars, revolutions, assassinations, economic downturns, famine, ongoing banking crisis, inflation, devaluation and distress.

"Moreover, most of us believe that we're heading to worse times. And all that we've learnt is that we should continue to attack each other.

“What if instead of attacking each other we can make a chain to lift each other? We're all drowning together.

"Wake up, everyone. Lebanon needs all of us."

Anghami is widely regarded as one of Lebanon’s most successful start-ups. While the company says it is registered in the Cayman Islands, its headquarters are in Beirut and offices in Dubai, Cairo and Riyadh.

Bloomberg reported in January that it was considering a sale that could value it at $400 million (Dh1.46 billion).

Many of those who defended Ms Habib on social media said they would cancel their Anghami subscription if she was fired.

“Tread lightly. Do you want to lose five Aounists or do you want to lose everyone else?” Lebanese blogger Gino Raidy tweeted.

Ms Habib also addressed reports that she had been fired over the tweet.

“Management was very supportive," she said. "Many thought I was fired but no, I’m still at Anghami.”

Other high-profile Lebanese journalists have been the target of Mr Aoun's supporters on social media in recent past, especially after the economic crisis pushed hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to the street in nationwide anti-government protests last October.

“It’s not new,” Ms Habib said.

Lebanese MP Elias Hankach, a member of opposition party Kataib, tweeted his support to Anghami on Tuesday.

Mr Hankach said he was “proud to have this Lebanese platform on that level of global success”.