Waiting game at Islam Online

As the labor dispute that has paralyzed the influential Islamic affairs and news website Islam Online entered its second week, more than 200 striking employees find themselves waiting on two very different possible outcomes.

On one hand, the employees are still involved in negotiations with the local lawyer representing the Islamic Message Society–the Qatari religious NGO that funds the site–over a severance agreement. If it comes together, that agreement would result in almost all employees of the site’s Cairo newsroom resigning and the 10-year-old website essentially starting over.

But at the same time, the employees are fervently hoping none of that will become necessary and that they’ll all be able to return to the site many describe as a labor of love.

“We’re sort of moving on two tracks,” said one employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

Several months of tension between Islam Online employees and the Message Society’s board of directors culminated in last week’s mass walkout. The employees accuse two new board members–Ibrahim el-Ansari and Ali el-Amady–of imposing editorial changes that threaten to alter the character of the site.

All eyes are now turning to prominent Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Youssef el-Qaradawi, who helped found the site and who serves as the public face of the Islamic Message Society. Qaradawi seems to be embroiled in a power struggle engulfing the Message Society’s board over the site’s future.

Late last week, the board (at Qaradawi’s behest) temporarily suspended the authority of Ansari and Amady, but the pair appear to have dug in and are refusing to relinquish access to the site. It should all come to a head later this week at a meeting of the Islamic Message Society board of directors.

Qaradawi recently broke a week-long silence on the issue, seemingly siding with the employees. On a Sunday broadcast of his Al Jazeera Channel show Sharia and Life, Qarawai said, the site may be temporarily “kidnapped,” but ultimately, “the site must return to its family.”

The statement has renewed the employees’ hope of avoiding mass resignation and returning to their jobs.

“At least it means that the sheikh is with us,” said the striking employee.

However, negotiations over a severance agreement continue, and are expected to resume later this week.

“The thing we’re still hoping for is that Shiekh Qaradawi gets his way,” said Adel el-Qadi, deputy editor in chief of the site. “But there’s still nothing tangible.”

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