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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Arab American candidates set to challenge member of Congress Ilhan Omar in Minnesota
At least two Arab Americans candidates intend to challenge Ilhan Omar, the three-time US representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, at next year’s elections.
One of them is fellow Democrat Sarah Gad, 36, who plans to make a formal announcement of her candidacy this week. She recovered from a serious road accident that left her addicted to painkilling drugs, and subsequent run-ins with the law that resulted in jail terms for drug abuse, to turn her life around and graduate from the University of Chicago with a law degree and a vow to help those who face overwhelming challenges in life.
The daughter of Muslim immigrants from Egypt and a former resident of Illinois who recently moved to Minnesota, where she practices law, Gad was involved in a severe car accident in 2012, while she was a medical student. She was subsequently charged and convicted of felony abuse of opioid drugs, which she had been using to counter severe pain resulting from the accident. It took two years for her to break free from addiction and start to put her life back together.
“My story, my history, really resonates with people,” Gad told the Minnesota Star Tribune newspaper recently. “It allows me to connect with them on a deeper level and understand the day-to-day issues that everyday constituents are facing.”
Gad served time in Cook County Jail, Illinois, for drug convictions, an institution that is notorious for reports of abuse and other controversies. She sued the prison, accusing guards of abuse, won the case and, after overcoming addiction, used the settlement she received to fund her studies at law school, from which she graduated in 2020.
Her story, combined with her political ambitions, has attracted national attention and praise. Last month, she appeared on Tamron Hall, a nationally syndicated US television talk show, and described her battle to lift herself up and her desire to use her experiences to help others.
She has already filed papers with the Federal Election Commission as a prospective candidate for the Democratic primary on Aug. 13, 2024, in the 5th District.
Standing again on the Republican ticket will be Iraqi American Dalia Al-Aqidi, 55, a pro-Israel Muslim and former journalist. If successful in the Republican primary, she would face off against the chosen Democratic candidate in the congressional election on Nov. 5 next year.
However, she faces an uphill battle. She previously sought the Republican nomination for the 5th District in 2020 but received only 4.7 percent of the primary vote, losing to Lacy Johnson who won 76.6 percent of the 11,992 ballots cast.
On her website, Al-Aqidi, who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1988, has slammed Omar, who has often been the target of pro-Israel activists, for supporting Arab, Muslim and Palestinian rights.
She wrote: “In Congress, she (Omar) constantly forwards or sponsors legislation that attacks our allies while remaining silent about America’s adversaries.
“The fact that she was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee is further evidence of how untethered she is from the center of American thinking. Her hateful rhetoric and noxious antisemitism is toxic and serves only to gain attention for herself and position her as a celebrity — she is not fighting for us, she is fighting for herself.”
Omar comfortably defeated Johnson in the congressional election on Nov. 3, 2020, winning 64.3 percent of the 398,263 votes cast. First elected in November 2018, she was the first Somali American in the US Congress and the first woman of color to represent Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim women, with Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, elected to Congress. The 5th District has a large Somali population and is overwhelmingly Democratic.
In the November 2022 elections, Omar defeated Republican Cicely Davis, who had strong backing from the pro-Israel lobby, in a landslide victory with 74.3 percent of the 288,206 votes cast. However she remains vulnerable in the Democratic primary contest. In the August 2022 primary she defeated rival Don Samuels by a razor-slim margin of just 2,466 votes, receiving 50.3 percent of the 114,567 votes cast.
She has been a consistent and vocal critic of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war on Gaza in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, which she also criticized.
In a message posted on social media platform X shortly after the attacks, she wrote: “I condemn the horrific acts we are seeing unfold today in Israel against children, women, the elderly, and the unarmed people who are being slaughtered and taken hostage by Hamas. Such senseless violence will only repeat the back-and-forth cycle we’ve seen, which we cannot allow to continue.
“We need to call for deescalation and ceasefire. I will keep advocating for peace and justice throughout the Middle East.”
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