The IslamOnline Affair

Pic of IslamOnline strikers from Flickr user Ahmed Abd El-fatah

Over the last few days, Egyptian media circles have been up in arms about a strike at IslamOnline.net, the portal about Islam, Islamists and politics in the Muslim world. The chief meme being put out by employees and their supporters is that the "moderate" brand of Islam the site had promoted is being pushed out. A new board has come in at the Islamic Message Society of Qatar, which owns the site. Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, the board chairman and founder, is said to be considering resigning. The new board wants to take the site in a more Salafist direction — for instance, board members objected to mentions of Valentine's Day on the site. All of this info, of course, comes from the strikers so we have to take their word for it, the board is staying mum.

Now, I've always been irked at people describing Qaradawi as a moderate. But IslamOnline, which is not always necessarily so moderate, did put out an excellent media product and fascinating debates about Islamists, notably the Egyptian Muslim Brothers (I suspect that more than a few Brothers work at IslamOnline). I notably remember reading there the most trenchant critique of the Brothers' political party program there, by a leading member of the group. It also has very wide discussion of social and personal problems from an Islamic perspective. Overall, while it wasn't my proverbial cup of tea, it was possibly the most professional new media publication in Egypt, and certainly more "moderate" than Qatari wahhabis (they're not much talked about, but are just as bad as their Saudi counterpart).

The strike thus far has featured a huge sit-in at the Sixth October City office of the site, which was broadcast live online, and vigils. And it's very much the talk of the Egyptian Twittosphere.

There's been some good reporting on this, here are a few links:

Islam On-Strike | Al-Masry Al-Youm: Today's News from Egypt

Going Off-line | Al-Masry Al-Youm: Today's News from Egypt

Daily News Egypt - Full Article (DNE: I thus punish you for not putting the headline of articles in the title of the page.) 

IslamOnline website in crisis as employees in Egypt stage sit-in | World news | guardian.co.uk

April 6 = April Fools

The short story: what had been talked about nonstop for the past month as a "day of anger" with national outbreaks of protests all over the place completely fizzled out with a pathetic whimper. About 40 people were arrested, mostly in Kafr al-Sheikh, and security presence was slightly more massive than usual. Clearly Gaza is a vastly more important issue than this ill-defined "day of anger", and the very real, very serious anti-Mubarak movement in Egypt should dissociate itself from the "Shabab 6 April" if it wants to get anywhere. If they keep doing this, I predict a surge in the number of new applicants to join the NDP. Egypt's activists and opposition politicians are discrediting themselves if they make a big deal about a day of protests that most don't even participate in - and no, joining a Facebook group does not count. The same with more curse words at Sandmonkey. Hossam will have more later but has already posted along the same lines. Those two agreeing on anything political is a small miracle, and it happened today.
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April 6 Strike - what to expect

A quick round-up of info about Egypt's April 6 strike: - You can follow updates on Twitter by using the #6April tag - A couple of days ago the Karama party (leftist-Nasserist, unrecognized) held a conference in which it announced the latest opposition coalition initiative, the "Coalition of Egyptians for Change". It includes some of the usual figures from the Muslim Brothers (M. Abul Quddous) and a bunch of intellectuals like Sonallah Ibrahim and Alaa al-Aswaani. Here's a MET story on it that might exaggerate its import - remember it's not the first time such a coalition is formed, it should not have to be re-formed. - The socialist Tagammu party is joining the strike, and Ayman Nour (I'm not sure you can say there remains much of a Ghad party, even if he is rebuilding) has backed it, as has the fledging Democratic Front. The liberal Wafd is against the strike, although some of the writers in its paper back it. Presumably the Nasserists back it. - There have been a number of arrests of students and activists ahead of today's strike, most notably in Kafr al-Sheikh and Cairo. A Muslim Brother blogger, Abdel Rahman Fares has been arrested in Fayoum. Massive security presence expected in Cairo and elsewhere. Watch this al-Jazeera English report for background: - Protests are being planned at various universities around the country, notably Cairo U. Elsewhere likely to be used in Cairo: the State Council, the Journalists' Syndicate, the General Federation of Trade Unions, and more. - The Doctor's Syndicate will strike on April 9 asking for minimum wage, but there's some overlap with today. A protest is planned today in front of the Doctors' Syndicate on Qasr al-Aini St. The Pharmacists' Syndicate, the Bar Association and the Engineers' movement have announced they will not participate. Presumably the Judges' Club is not participating in light of its new pro-regime leadership, although its Alexandria branch still could. - Hossam Tammam on the Brothers' participation or non-participation (at this point it remains unclear what they'll do, even if they've announced support for the strike):
In a replay of events last year the MB has declined to take part in the 6 April strike, although it says that it supports strikes as a form of political action guaranteed by the law and the constitution. Justifying its refusal to participate the MB said that as the country's largest opposition group it should have been consulted. This is more or less what the MB said last year. The excuse is starting to wear thin. The MB is not known for its ability to maintain alliances outside the circle of Islamic activists or to perform as part of a broad political front. This is a result of the indoctrination that goes on in a closed organisation run through a strict hierarchy and which demands blind obedience to its leaders. Another reason that prevents the MB from cooperating with other groups is the self-importance it has acquired since it started outperforming other opposition groups in elections. The MB has developed a habit of lecturing others about the great sacrifices it has made over the years. Even if this were true, harping can only alienate other parties, if not the public as a whole. The fact is the MB's long history of suffering sometimes makes it act in an isolationist manner, as if it were a closely-knit clan, not a group seeking allies on the local political scene.
- Sandmonkey rants against the whole 6 April phenomenon. - So does Hossam for very different reasons, namely that it's not a general strike if large labor unions are not participating. But it will be "a day of protests, a day of rage." He has some notes on MB youth and rifts on MB policy on this one. - Zenobia has a bunch of updates. - Site of 6 April youth. They have two Facebook groups you can join too, one in English and one in Arabic. I haven't been out yet today but it appears to be a normal day traffic-wise in Garden City...
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State Dept. non-answers on Sudan strike

From the State Dept.Daily Press Briefing - March 26:
"QUESTION: On Sudan. If you could just please comment on reports about an alleged weapons convoy that was destroyed in Sudan, with weapons supposedly headed for Gaza. I believe the attack happened in January. Was the U.S. aware of this attack? Reports are saying that it was either carried out by the U.S., others are saying that it may have been carried out by Israel. MR. DUGUID: I’ve seen no reports that suggested U.S. involvement in this particular case. I’m aware of the media reports. I don’t have any information on that for you. It would be a defense issue, in any event. But I am unaware that there is any suggestion of U.S. involvement. QUESTION: Sudan’s – I believe it was the transport minister – has acknowledged that his country in the past has sent weapons to Hamas but says that is no longer the case. Is there a U.S. concern that Sudan is still providing weapons assistance to – through Gaza or to Hamas? MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information for you on that. We are concerned that weapons are being sent to Hamas, that smuggling has been a problem in the Gaza Strip, and that is one of the things that everyone is working to resolve, particularly the Egyptians are working to resolve, in order to help bring peace back to the Gaza. QUESTION: Can I just clarify something? MR. DUGUID: Yes. QUESTION: Your remarks were a little unclear. Are you saying the U.S. did not have any involvement in that at all, just flat out? MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of any suggestion that the U.S. did. QUESTION: But there is a suggestion. There’s a Sudanese report saying that. MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of the report. I haven’t seen it and I don’t have any information on that. QUESTION: But Kirit isn’t asking whether you’re aware of any suggestions. He’s asking whether there was any involvement, to your knowledge. MR. DUGUID: But I am – and what I am telling you is that because I was unaware that there was any suggestion, I have not been informed that there was any sort of U.S. involvement. I will be happy to refer you to the Pentagon if this is something that would involve military action, but nothing I have seen indicates any U.S. involvement in this incident at all. QUESTION: And just on the same point then, do you have any indication of Israeli involvement? MR. DUGUID: I would refer you to the Israelis about their involvement in any particular military action."
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