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The New Arab Staff

London university gets its first hijabi student union president

The 26-year-old, Shaima Dallali, established the Friends of Palestine Society at her university. [Facebook/City University]

Date of publication: 21 March, 2021

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Shaima Dallali warned students and universities are facing pressure from the UK government to adopt legislation that would "hinder the students' activities in support of the Palestinian cause".
The first hijab-wearing Arab Muslim woman to win the presidency of the University of London Students' Union has said that there is legitimate concern about the British government's attempts to suppress student activities in support of the Palestinian cause.

Shaima Dallali, who won the post at City, University of London earlier this month, said students and universities are facing pressure from the UK government to adopt legislation that would "hinder the students' activities in support of the Palestinian cause", she told Al Jazeera Mubasher.

Her comments come as UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson went under fire for demanding that English universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which critics say undermines freedom of expression and will dampen university campaigns in support of Palestine.

Williamson had previously warned university vice-chancellors that if a majority of universities failed to adopt the IHRA definition by December, then he would take action, alluding to the possibility of cutting funds.

"In terms of education and academic topics, students are now more engaged and interactive. Despite the government's relentless pressures, they are protecting freedom of speech on these issues," Dallali said.

The 26-year-old established the Friends of Palestine Society at her university, and campaigned using an antiracist stance for the post of Student Union President. Alongside her, two other Muslim women who wear the hijab were elected in office positions.

"From my position at this university, I will focus on being effective, and we need to be more involved in implementing strategies that allow us to work with the student community and the local community to reject racism in all its forms," Dallali said.

"The most dangerous of [issue] is the issue of Islamophobia, which is the main dilemma of Muslim students, especially with the rise of the extreme right in Britain and the issue of Brexit despite the existence of a general atmosphere of freedom of expression and religion."

She was born to a Sudanese mother and a Tunisian father, with which she came to the UK in 2000, where she has obtained a Law degree.

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