|58th President of the National Union of Students|
1 July 2016 – 3 July 2017
|Preceded by||Megan Dunn|
|Succeeded by||Shakira Martin|
Mazia Malia Bouattia|
October 1987 (age 30)
Norwich, Norfolk, England
|Alma mater||University of Birmingham|
Malia Mazia Bouattia (born October 1987) is the former president of the National Union of Students (NUS) of the United Kingdom, elected at the National Conference in April 2016. She was the first female Black British and Muslim leader of the NUS. She attended the University of Birmingham. In March 2017, she was defeated in her attempt to run for a second term in office by NUS Vice-President Shakira Martin.
Bouattia was born in Norwich, Norfolk, in October 1987. Her father is Brahim Bouattia, an Algerian academic who now works for an international management consultancy, and her mother is Latifa Akhrouf. She has two younger sisters, Hannah and Yasmin.
The family fled their home in Constantine during the Algerian Civil War, and moved to Birmingham in England, where Bouattia attended school. While at school, she began campaigning on social issues, and took part in protests opposing the Iraq War. Bouattia attended the University of Birmingham where she read cultural studies with French, followed by an MPhil in post-colonial theory. While studying for her MPhil, she began to be active in the NUS.
NUS Black Students' Officership and racial identity
Bouattia served two years as Black Students' Officer of the National Union of Students (NUS). While in this position, she campaigned against the UK government's Prevent strategy which she describes as “toxic and unworkable.” Bouattia also pushed for greater ethnic diversity amongst NUS candidates and campaigned for the establishment of a permanent officer for transgender students.
While a member of the NUS Executive Committee, Bouattia opposed a motion condemning the terrorist acts of ISIS as she considered the wording of the motion Islamophobic. She later supported a second motion condemning crimes by ISIS, as well as Islamophobia in general.
Bouattia has spoken extensively about her North African (Algerian) ancestry and her racial identity as a black woman. In May 2016, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff in the New Statesman argued that Bouattia was not black, and that her self-identification as black was part of a tendency by some people of colour to adopt "blackness" as an inclusive term for nonwhites generally, a trend Brinkhurst-Cuff called "political blackness." In Brinkhurst-Cuff's view, this conflation of the variety of racialised experiences was "unwise and outdated". Brinkhurst-Cuff nonetheless welcomed Bouattia's appointment, and distinguished her case from that of Rachel Dolezal on the grounds that Bouattia was a woman of colour who was honest about her ancestry.
Election as NUS president
At the 2016 NUS conference Bouattia ran for the position of president against incumbent Megan Dunn. She opposed Dunn's plans to end the NUS' relationship with the human rights organisation CAGE, which Bouattia had defended in July 2015 against David Cameron's accusation that it is an "extremist" group. Bouattia has referred to the stance against CAGE as consisting of "baseless Islamophobic smears", while Dunn described its leaders as having "sympathised with violent extremism and violence against women."
Allegations of antisemitism
During her campaign attention was drawn to past comments she had made, that were criticised as antisemitic. In a co-written 2011 University of Birmingham Friends of Palestine blog post, she described the University as "something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education" which has "the largest JSoc [Jewish student society] in the country whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists". For this she has been condemned by over 300 Jewish student leaders, the Union of Jewish Students and Oxford University Student Union.
In her response to this criticism in April 2016, Bouattia rejected the accusation that she had a problem with Jewish societies on-campus. Daniel Clements, then president of Birmingham J-Soc, found her comments "completely unsatisfactory".
Bouattia defended her comments claiming that they had been misrepresented and "that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish." An October 2016 report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, described her comments as "outright racism" and said that she was not taking issues of anti-Semitism on university campuses seriously enough. However, a letter published in The Independent with signatories including Professor Norman Finkelstein and Professor Moshé Machover, defended Bouattia's record of fighting racism and anti-semitism.
Critics of Bouattia also highlighted a video of her speaking at a conference on "Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution" in 2014, in which she said: "With mainstream Zionist-led media outlets ... resistance is presented as an act of terrorism." Any peace talks, in her opinion, are a "strengthening of the colonial project". Bouattia attracted criticism for appearing to suggest that non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation is a limited option.
In January 2017, Al Jazeera broadcast footage purporting to show that the UJS (Union of Jewish Students) and the Israeli Embassy in London were involved in a campaign to discredit Bouattia with claims of antisemitism and of seeking to block her election and, later, attempting to remove her.
The following month, an internal NUS inquiry concluded that Bouattia had made an antisemitic statement, although four other such claims were rejected. As she had expressed regret, the investigator said that Bouattia should not face any action so long as she apologised.
Students' union disaffiliations
In response to her election, students at Durham, Loughborough, Hull, Aberystwyth, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Essex, York, King's College London, Nottingham, UWE, Leicester, Queen Mary University of London and Reading University began campaigning to disaffiliate from the NUS.
On 9 May 2016 the University of Lincoln disaffiliated from the NUS. Within the same week, Newcastle University followed. Hull University disaffiliated on 24 May 2016, followed by Loughborough University on 7 June. However, Queen Mary, Nottingham, Oxford, Surrey, Exeter, Warwick, Cambridge and Durham universities voted to remain affiliated to the NUS.
Defeat in 2017 NUS election
On 13 March 2017, Bouattia announced that she was running for a second term as NUS President. The NUS Vice-President for further education Shakira Martin ran against her, as well as Durham student Tom Harwood, who stood on a conservative platform and lampooned the NUS and Bouattia's "irrelevant grandstanding" in his somewhat satirical campaign literature. Martin defeated Bouattia winning 56% of the vote in the election at the national conference in Brighton the following month. She gained 402 of the 721 votes cast by delegates, while Bouattia received 272 and Harwood 35.
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- "Parliament should move to the Heathrow flight path – and see if they can get any work done". The Independent. 2016-10-26. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
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- Burns, Judith. Student unions split on leaving NUS in row over president. BBC News, 13 May 2016. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- Bouattia, Malia. "Re-Elect Malia For NUS President". Facebook. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
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- Burgess, Kaya (17 December 2016). "Manifesto of mockery wins student election". The Times. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
- NUS (26 April 2017). "Shakira Martin elected as NUS National President". NUS. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
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