It’s been a surreal week for us at Islamonline.net, the world’s premier Muslim website. The editorial office is based in Egypt, and headquarters are in Qatar.
On Monday 15 March, fears which had been brewing for over a month came to a boil. We were abruptly told, with no forewarning, that the Egypt office would be immediately closed.
It started in January, when the new executive board members of Al-Balagh Society, the holding company of Media International (which produces the websites Islamonline & others) sought to gain control of the editorial agenda planning.
They issued guidelines calling for more conservative, religious content, and wanted to remove the youth and arts sections. They objected to the coverage of Valentines Day-despite it being from an Islamic perspective.
They appointed someone of their choosing to preside over the new General Manager, after the General Manager at IOL resigned, due to heavy handedness by the board. This man, Dr Atef Abdel Mughny, then appropriated control of the server, and transferred the Arabic youth site, 20at.com, to a smaller server.
There was talk of layoffs and restructuring. A letter was sent to them to explain what’s going on, but they didn’t respond to the concerns listed by employees. A letter was also sent to Sh Qaradawi, the chair of Al Balagh, to intervene.
On Monday, staff arranged a sit-in to protest against the lack of answers. They sent in the police, & said all employees who had signed the letter would be investigated. The server was then blocked, and we could not upload content. Then they announced Al Balagh would not be renewing its contract (hitherto unknown of by the staff) with Media International. All employees would be released. But they said if employees resign, they’d be compensated. Almost all 350 employees resigned.
But the next day they reneged on the deal offering adequate compensation.
The following day they started removing content. All of IOL Radio’s content has been removed, and certain material from other sections.
On Wednesday, an emergency board meeting was called by Sh Qaradawi. He revoked the decisions of the executive board members, who said they acted with the backing of the emir of Qatar. The emir denied involvement.
They were suspended, and an Acting Exec Board was appointed in the interim. Within two weeks, a General Assembly Meeting of Al Balagh will be held, & decisions put to a vote.
3 board members want the Egypt editorial office to remain, 3 want it moved to Qatar, and 3 are undecided.
We still don’t have access to the server, & the strike continues.
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