By Adrian Morrow
Muhammad Ali Jabbar always seemed to be above politics. As president of the Ryerson Students’ Union last year, he was frequently outshone by his firebrand deputy, Nora Loreto. In September when I asked him for his take on the RSU’s infighting, he told me, diplomatically, that both sides in the bitter fighting wanted his help, and it seemed he would be the peacemaker.
Just two weeks later, Abe Snobar brought forward a motion to start defederating from the Canadian Federation of Students. At the long board meeting that followed, Jabbar listed the benefits the CFS was giving the RSU and called on the students’ union to work within the CFS to improve it rather than defederating. Snobar’s motion failed by the narrowest of margins, and Jabbar’s speech was the most memorable of the night.
Now clearly on the side of Loreto and the centre-left camp that has run the RSU for all but one year of the last 10, Jabbar was still careful to maintain some distance from Loreto and her team. For months, he maintaned the impartial aura of an elder statesman.
So it was a surprise late last month when it became clear he would run against Snobar for the RSU’s presidency. He even brought back Rebecca Rose, another former president, to run for VP education. In the most vicious election in years, Jabbar emerged victorious, beating Snobar 1,582 votes to 1,072. Although Jabbar’s slate also won the education and finance vice-presidencies , his VP student life and events candidate, Mal Sampa, lost out to Sid Naidu, and Snobar’s Ryevolution slate captured a majority of seats on the board of directors.
Clearly, if Jabbar wants to avoid a repeat of this year, he will have to bring his best negotiating skills to the table and hammer out a working arrangement with an RSU still dominated by the opposition. But he’ll have to go a step further, and work hard to accomplish all the things that the RSU failed to do this year: getting cheaper transit, creating a sustainability office on campus and shutting down Gould Street.
More immediately, he might have to face the possibility that Snobar could use his control over the board to throw out the election results entirely when it meets later this month.
Jabbar’s triple-barrelled name has an aristocratic ring to it. And, like a king, he’s often tried to stay above the petty disputes that have gripped the students’ union. But he will no doubt have to get his hands dirty if he wants to fix the organization that so few students really care about.
Being above politics is only a good tactic half the time.