IslamOnline – Strike, Stream and Twitter Activism

IslamOnline is on strike since today. Employees of the Arabic-English news website Islam Online are demanding their voices be heard by the new administration. The original plan was to have a short strike but after security forces were called in by the new Qatari administration an open-ended sit-in was announced.
According to Bikya Masr (well-informed):
Islam Online in crisis as administration threatens to fire journalists | Bikya Masr

According to Atef Abdel-Ghany, who runs the website’s development committee, said the new board has informed the employees that come March 31, “more than 250 of the journalists will be let go.” Islam Online currently employs more than 350 people.

Prominent Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawy, who is technically the owner of Islam Online, has been out of touch during the ordeal. Employees attempted to get in touch with him, but to no avail. HMLC said that the sheikh “had promised the workers all of their rights and the continuation of the Cairo branch or he would resign, but it seems the Qatari side has taken advantage of Qaradawy’s health and his trip to Saudi Arabia.”

The law center said this was an attempt to take advantage of the situation while he is away.

This left the Egyptian blogosphere up in arms over the development, which has been updating the situation constantly. According to reports, the new administration wants a more “conservative approach” to what has long been considered one of the few voices for moderate Islamic perspectives online in both English and Arabic. […]

The employees have said the new administration consists of conservative Salafist and Wahhabi – known for their conservative approach to Islam – Muslims who want to remove at least three sections from the website. They are the “Islamyoon,” “Madarik” and “Youth.”

The journalists argue this is an effort to push a new “conservative agenda” that runs counter to the traditional Islam Online effort of bring people together.

The move on the moderate Islam Online is likely to spur the already tense relationship between moderate Muslims and the conservatives, who have been attempting to buttress their support in Egypt for the past few years. Those from the Gulf have been pushing their agenda in Egypt for years, but only recently has their voice become stronger and supporters flocking to their ranks, says Gamal al-Banna, an elderly Islamic scholar and liberal thinker.

“We have for far too long allowed the conservatives to come into Egypt and have done nothing about it,” he began. “It is time to speak out for what Egyptians want.”

Except there is not much covering of this event as yet, with the exception of the site mentioned above and Al-Masry Al-Youm. Having said that, interestingly, the strike (or sit-in as it should be called by now) can followed live on Twitter. In particular Nadia el Awady (see also her blog) is twittering a lot about it and has reliable information (always a problem on Twitter). You can also follow employees: Mosab and Ghafari and the continuing tweets can be followed by using #IOL or #islamonline as hashtag. And the activists over there are using a live stream for a live coverage of their own activities at Ustream. You can follow that here: IOL on AIR.

As Nadia el Awady also remarked on Twitter, IOL has never been in the forefront of using new media, but now with this strike they have overcome that. The whole conflict seems to be related to a takeover of the board by conservative Muslims. IOL has always been relatively open to liberal and alternative lifestyle views and has been promoted by Yusuf Qardawi as a website for all Muslims. Bettina Gräf has written about IOL describing and explaining the history and operations of The body behind IslamOnline (IOL) is the Al-Balagh Cultural Society in Qatar, which was established in 1997 on the initiative of Qatari IT specialist Maryam Hasan al-Hajari and Dr. Hamid al-Ansari, a scholar at the Sharica Faculty of the University of Qatar. In its early stages the project was supported by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the 1926-born, Azhar-educated Egyptian scholar. Yusuf al-Qaradawi defined the site’s mission this way: “This project is neither nationalistic nor one aiming at a grouping or a group of people; it is a project for the entire Islamic community. It is the jihad of our era.” Read Gräf’s paper (pdf) HERE or only the introduction at Arab Media & Society.

Who decides what to say about Islam (be it liberal, conservative or whatever other label) seems to be at stake it here as well as job security. By using Twitter and Ustream as resources for activism and mobilization series of employees voiced their grievances before the video feed. Many said they were fighting for their jobs but also the maintain the website’s tolerant outlook.

3 thoughts on “IslamOnline – Strike, Stream and Twitter Activism

  1. Yes, they did a great job with their live streaming.

    Just to correct a piece of information in BikyaMasr’s article quoted here. Actually, Sheikh Qaradawi is not and never was the owner of IslamOnline — not even technically. He was the Chairman of the Board of Directors, which was an honorary position. I’m saying this as someone who worked for IslamOnline for 8 years.

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