Malia Bouattia elected first black female NUS president

High-profile critic of Prevent has attracted criticism from Jewish student societies over her comments on Israel-Palestine conflict

April 20, 2016
Malia Bouattia is the new president of the National Union of Students
Malia Bouattia is the new president of the National Union of Students

The National Union of Students has elected its first black female president after Malia Bouattia won a shock victory over current president Megan Dunn.

Ms Bouattia, the NUS’ black students officer, won 372 votes to Ms Dunn’s 328 in elections held at the union’s annual conference in Brighton on 20 April.

The third candidate, Adil Waraich, the former president of De Montfort Students’ Union, received just nine votes. Some 22 votes called for the reopening of nominations.

Ms Bouattia’s win by 44 votes means Ms Dunn is one of the few NUS presidents in recent memory not to serve a two-year term after being unseated in elections after one year.

The winning candidate, a former University of Birmingham student, has faced allegations of anti-Semitism during her election campaign, with more than 50 leaders of Jewish students’ unions penning an open letter to call for her to explain her “past rhetoric”.

It references an article written by Ms Bouattia in 2011 in which she called the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost”. She has also been criticised for her refusal to vote for a motion condemning Islamic State.

Her outspoken support for boycotts of Israel and “resistance” by the Palestinian people have also invited calls for further explanation.

Ms Bouattia - who is the NUS's first Muslim president - addressed these concerns in her hustings speech, describing how her family had been forced to flee civil war in Algeria when she was child .

“I know too well the price of terrorism, the consequences of racism and oppression,” said Ms Bouattia, a leading figure in the Students Not Suspects campaign against the Prevent anti-terrorism agenda.

"I saw a country ripped apart by terror and was forced into exile," she explained, adding: “I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution."

She explained how her university lecturer father was almost killed by a bomb and her school had been attacked by gun-wielding militia, causing her family to flee.

“I know many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by rightwing media, and might think I am a terrorist and my politics driven by hate,” she said, adding: "How wrong that is." 

Ms Dunn’s defeat follows a series of challenges to her authority from an increasingly militant national executive council.

In a statement, the Union of Jewish Students said it hoped its “long-standing positive relationship with the National Union of Students” would continue after Ms Bouattia’s election.

However, there are “many Jewish students who have not been satisfied with Malia’s response so far to the concerns raised by Jewish students over the last few weeks”, it said, adding that “these questions still need to be answered”.

Several other key executive members face re-election battles of their own at the conference, held in Brighton from 19 to 21 April.

Sorana Vieru, vice-president (higher education), is being challenged by Priscilla Mensah, president of Cambridge University Students’ Union.

Shelly Asquith, vice-president (welfare), will be opposed by Munya Mudarikiri, vice-president (voice) at the University of Surrey Students’ Union.

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