Times March 17, 2010
Islam Online faces collapse after Cairo staff revolt over ‘religious pressure’
Ashraf Khalil, Cairo
The widely read and influential Islamic news website Islam Online was on the brink of collapse yesterday after a mass walkout and strike in its Cairo-based newsroom.
More than 300 employees of the site, which is run by a Qatar-based religious non-governmental organisation, were negotiating a severance deal that could gut the website’s staff.
“By Sunday there probably won’t be an Islam Online. It will be an empty building,” a striking employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
Months of growing tension between the site’s Cairo-based newsroom and the Islamic Message Society, which funds the project, culminated in Monday’s mass walkout and street protest by employees.
One, Fathi Abu Hattab, said that the new directors of the site had been interfering in editorial decision-making, seeking to alter its moderate tone and diversity of content.
“They want to change the personality of Islam Online,” he said. “Even if you fund the organisation you don’t have the right to just change the editorial policy without first talking to us.”
The dispute has played out over the internet via Twitter and through a live online video stream set up by the striking workers. With strikers chanting in the background, a steady stream of employees have voiced their grievances before the video feed, with many saying that they were fighting for their jobs and their vision for their website.
“If you want to found a conservative website, go and found one. Don’t take over Islam Online and try to change it,” one unnamed striker said on the video feed on Monday.
The website was established in 2000 under the guidance of the prominent Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. It has built a reputation for covering a diverse array of issues in English and Arabic, including advice columns that homosexuality and pornography addiction. The site is also known for employing non-Muslims and openly secular staffers.