Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, University of Glasgow Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, University of Glasgow. Photo: @UofGsolidarity / X

Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah elected rector with 80% of the vote as the Palestine movement goes from strength to strength, reports Doncho Atanassov

On 26 March 2024, Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah was elected rector of the University of Glasgow. Dr Abu-Sittah is the British-Palestinian surgeon who operated in Gaza for the first forty days of Israel’s genocidal assault.

After a two-month campaign by the Palestinian Society and Stop the War activists on campus, Dr Abu-Sittah was elected with an astonishing 80% of the vote, doubling the turnout of the previous rector election. Rector is one of two positions representing the interests and concerns of students in the University Court and is a position voted for by students. It is a centuries-old and prestigious position that students have used to elect political rectors such as Winnie Mandela, Jimmy Reid, Mordecai Vanunu and Edward Snowden. 

Dr Abu-Sittah’s platform consisted of several aims, from getting the University to condemn the genocide in Gaza and strengthening and establishing new links with Palestinian universities, to divesting the £6.8 million the University of Glasgow has invested in the arms trade and repealing the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism that conflates criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism. Dr Abu-Sittah has since indicated his intention to support the UCU strikes and tackle student housing, poverty and gender-based violence—issues he has attributed to the corporatisation of universities.


Dr Abu-Sittah’s election success represents a victory for the pro-Palestine and anti-imperialist movements in Scotland. In an interview with the Herald, he said the ‘Glasgow that I knew is the Glasgow that is an internationalist city whose people have always been at the front not just of the [anti-] apartheid movement but all acts of solidarity with people across the globe.’ 

The significance of Dr Abu-Sittah’s victory should not be understated. With Glasgow University’s £6.8 million investment in arms companies like BAE Systems, which produce weapons that Israel is using to carry out its genocidal assault on Gaza, Dr Abu-Sittah’s election as rector puts him in a powerful position to argue the case for divestment. This position is further strengthened because of his status as a Glasgow University alumnus who worked in Gaza during the current onslaught while another alumnus, Dima Alhaj, was killed in her apartment by an Israeli strike alongside her child last November. 

Since the financial sector is an important part of the web of imperialist exploitation, and weapons companies profit from the wars generated by imperialism, Dr Abu-Sittah’s position as rector could pose a small, but not insignificant challenge to British imperialism. If successful, it could add wind to campaigns across the UK to divest from the arms trade, which could further weaken the power of British imperialism. 

Lessons to learn

The campaign enjoyed broad support from different cross-sections of students and thrived on the back of increased political consciousness and action by student groups campaigning for divestment. Therefore, this presents an opportunity to reflect on how to build a mass anti-war, anti-imperialist movement. 

Our job should be to exploit contradictions and rising consciousness and create mass movements that can achieve victories that disrupt the flow of imperialism. This will become even more important on campus as there will certainly be attempts to discredit and remove Dr Abu-Sittah or limit his influence. This needs to be counteracted with a strong student movement on campus. 

Crucially, with the UCU’s struggle being far from concluded, it is to the movement’s advantage to have a representative that is firmly behind the union along with a strong student presence on picket lines to provide material support. Students at the University of Glasgow have a unique chance to engage with class and anti-imperialist politics from a position of relative strength, and they must seize this opportunity.

While the results have been decisive, it has not been an easy struggle behind the scenes. The Jewish Chronicle launched a coordinated campaign soon after Dr Abu-Sittah’s candidacy was announced to discredit him with baseless accusations of supporting ‘terrorism’ by sending complaints to the University. Knowing that his victory would threaten the interests of capital, and will put them under pressure to divest, the university was quick to jump on these claims and open three separate investigations based on this coordinated campaign. 

There were also attempts to discredit Dr Abu-Sittah based on his opposition to the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, with pressures to remove that pledge. However, we stood firm in our political convictions and did not compromise our positions, or cave into intimidations. This was another important factor that contributed to our success. We won by an incredible landslide because we stuck to our politics.

The movement is alive and well and constantly picking up momentum. We must not stop now. We have to organise on campuses around the country and use this victory as a starting point to advance the movement.

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