EXCLUSIVE: Meet Dalia Al-Aqidi, the Republican Iraqi refugee seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar 

Dalia Al-Aqidi is seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar in the November election. (Twitter/Dalia al-Aqidi)
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Updated 21 January 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Meet Dalia Al-Aqidi, the Republican Iraqi refugee seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar 

  • Dalia Al-Aqidi is challenging the controversial Democrat in November elections
  • Al-Aqidi says people are fed up with Omar's anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric

WASHINGTON: A Muslim immigrant from Iraq hoping to unseat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has accused her rival of embracing anti-Semitism and failing “to love America.”

Speaking to Arab News, Dalia Al-Aqidi said she is running for Congress because Omar is doing “irreparable harm” to both America and Minnesota, the state where her congressional district is located.

Al-Aqidi, who was born in Iraq but sought refuge in the US in 1993, this week launched her candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for the seat that will be voted for in November elections.

She joined a crowded field of candidates to challenge Omar, the high profile and controversial Democrat best known as a member of the “Squad,” four left-wing progressive congresswomen that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

 

 

Omar, 37, a Somali refugee, is favored to win her party’s nomination. She took office in January 2019 after soundly defeating Republican challenger Jennifer Zielinski in 2018.

“On the surface, we look the same. We're both women, refugees, Muslims, but we couldn't be further apart. She sows seeds of division, defending our enemies,” Al-Aqidi declared in a recent online campaign fundraising drive.

“When I became an American citizen, I took an oath to defend the Constitution and defend our country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Al-Aqidi accused Omar of “failing to represent the interests of constituents” of the farm-based 5th district on the Minnesota’s eastern border near Wisconsin. The district has been represented by Democrats since 1963, including Keith Ellison, an African American Muslim now serving as Minnesota’s Attorney General who held the seat from 2007 until 2019.

 

 

Omar has been accused of anti-Semitism for making comments critical of Israel and the Israeli lobby in the US. Last year she sparked anger when she said some members of Congress and the United State exploit “dual citizenship” with Israel to put Israel’s interests above the interests of America.

In February, Omar apologized for asserting that Congress’ support of Israel is driven by pro-Israel monetary contributions. “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” she said in a tweet referring to the American $100 bill.

The district’s Democratic history does not dissuade Al-Aqidi, a former Al Arabiya Op-Ed writer, who has been celebrated by the conservative media as a champion not only of Trump’s conservative policies but also of “family values.”

“I chose to run for Congress because I believe Ilhan Omar is doing irreparable harm to both Minnesota and America. Her consistent anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric are toxic and serve only to gain attention for herself and position herself as a celebrity—she’s not fighting for us, she is fighting for herself, even if that means fighting against us,” Al-Aqidi said.

“I was inspired to launch my campaign because I believe the residents of this district need someone fighting for them, not DC insiders and foreign influences. Our country needs leaders who actually love America.”

Al-Aqidi said Omar needs to be replaced, accusing the incumbent of being a voice of opposition to President Donald Trump and fueling division while supporting America’s enemies.

“Omar has spent her entire time in Washington sowing seeds of division and actively supporting our enemies, while also doing everything she can to prop up her own celebrity status instead of fighting for her constituents,” Al-Aqidi said.

“Even when President Trump has taken action to help her constituents, Omar condemns him simply out of personal hatred. Meanwhile, more scandal and corruption flood out of her office every week. Minnesota’s 5th district deserves someone who is fighting for them, not the radical left in DC.”

Al-Aqidi said her top issues as she enters the first round against five Republican rivals include strengthening both the district’s economy and the country’s national security, describing herself as a champion of Trump’s tough stand on immigration.

“I believe those wishing to do harm to the US are attempting to gain access to the US every day,” said Al-Aqidi, rejecting the assertion that Trump is anti-Muslim and is instead seeking to block extremists and violent criminals from entering the country.

“I support President Trump’s efforts to secure the border and fix our legal immigration system. Meanwhile, Omar wants to open up our borders and allow those same dangerous individuals to freely enter the country.”

Al-Aqidi said that despite the district’s heavy Democratic voting history, voters are embarrassed by Omar’s actions and want change. She said that while Omar “hates” America, she loves her country and its policies, which welcomed her and millions of other Iraqis and Arabs into the country.

“This campaign will be different. First, the people of District 5 have just experienced two years of being embarrassed of Ilhan Omar’s offensive antics. And two years of her ignoring her constituents in order to become a hero of the resistance,” Al-Aqidi said.

“I think voters will want to put a lot of this behind them and support a candidate who actually loves the country she’s elected to represent. The hardworking families of this district need and deserve better, and we’re going to show them that there is a better alternative.

Despite strong criticism of Omar’s political record, Al-Aqidi did not address Omar’s personal controversy, her decision to file for a divorce last November from her husband of 23 years, Ahmed Hirsi. The wife of Omar’s chief political consultant, Tim Mynett, alleged in a divorce filing in August 2019 that her husband engaged in an extra-marital affair with Omar.


India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

India hosts some of the world’s wealthiest temples including the Shiva Temple (pictured), with some earning donations worth more than some businesses. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2020

India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

  • With assets worth billions of dollars, historians say donations offer validation to many

NEW DELHI: Vinod Tawde donates a kilogram of gold each time he visits the Tirupati Temple, located in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, every year.

“This has been a tradition in my family to visit the Tirupati Temple at least once every year. Sometimes I visit twice also if I get a good business deal. The offerings to the temple is a way of thanking God for blessing me,” the Mumbai-based builder told Arab News.

He is not alone. Under normal circumstances, the nearly 300-year-old Tirupati Temple would be frequented by 100,000 people every day, earning $120 million in gifts and donations annually, while its total worth is estimated to be $11 billion.
However, since a nationwide lockdown was imposed in March, it has impacted the footfall to all places of worship across the country.
India is home to some of the world’s wealthiest temples, with some earning more in donations every year than a successful business enterprise.
According to a 2015 assessment by the World Gold Council, India’s temples hold about 2,000 tons of gold, worth about $100 billion, while the country’s central bank placed the value at 557.7 tons of gold based on its 2013 estimate.
One among these is the Shirdi Temple, located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Less than 100 years old, it is very popular among devotees and holds wealth worth $100 million.
Next in line is the 200-year-old Siddhivinayak Temple in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, which is said to have assets worth $20 million.
However, none of these are a patch on the 1,000-year-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, which historians believe is worth $20 billion, making it India’s and one of the world’s richest temples.
“No other temple in the world has claimed to have so many antiques as the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple claims to have. Only one vault of the temple has been opened; imagine its wealth when the other vaults are opened,” Lekshmy Rajeev, a Kerala-based poet and temple historian, told Arab News.
The temple came to national and international consciousness in 2011 when one of its vaults was opened, yielding sacks of gold coins, diamonds and antique jewelry.
 The other vault has not been opened yet; the royal family believes doing so would bring bad luck. With the kind of wealth the temple has, one can build 10 Burj Khalifas, the world’s tallest building (2,717 feet), worth $1.5 billion.
The temple came under the spotlight recently over ownership claims, with its former royals taking the matter to court.
It follows a 2011 decision by the Kerala high court to give the state ownership of the ancient religious place following the death of its head, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore in 1991.
On July 13 this year, the apex court reinstated ownership of the temple to its former royal, overruling the 2011 ruling of the Kerala high court.
“We allow the appeal of the royal family of Travancore. Death does not affect Shebaitship (management and maintenance of the deity) of the Travancore Family,” the two-member bench said in the order.
It ruled that a new committee set up by the Travancore royal family would run the temple and decide what to do with its wealth, including the contents of an unopened vault.
“A large number of devotees had prayed for us. The judgment is their victory,” a member of the former royal family, Gauri Lakshmi Bai, told reporters after the verdict in Thiruvananthapuram at the time.
The apex court verdict has ignited the old debate about who should manage the temple and whether the wealth of religious places can be used for the public good.
Experts, however, are divided on the matter. “The Supreme Court did not leave the administration of the temple to the former royal family, as many thought and quickly interpreted. There are checks and balances in place, and at the same time the court wants to recover the missing money from the vault from the royal family,” Rajeev said.
She added that using a temple’s wealth “strictly for the welfare of the people would be the ideal thing.”
However, Manu S. Pillai, author of the award-winning book, “The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore,” said such a proposal would be “alarming.”
“The value of the temple’s treasure is not monetary alone but also historical. What is reasonable, on the other hand, is placing some of it in a museum run by the temple authorities,” Pillai, who has written extensively on the royal family of Travancore, which has been managing the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, told Arab News.
Most of the wealth acquired by the temples are from donations by individual devotees. Experts say this is due to a desire “to wash their sins,” which prompts a majority to indulge in such extravagant donations.
“It’s a paradox that India is a land of many homeless and hungry people and gods are rich,” Rajeev said.
“Each temple in India represents a myth or ritual, or some miracle — and people believe them blindly. People donate money as a votive; business tycoons donate a minuscule amount from the black money they amass thinking that it would wash away their sins,” she added.
Pillai agrees and adds that donating to temples also offers “social and cultural validation” to many.
“Temples could be used to legitimize political changes, to create patronage networks, to control economic channels. While an ordinary devotee may pay small amounts willingly out of love for the deity and a desire to contribute to the institution’s upkeep, there are public figures for whom large donations bring social prestige. So it is a mix of several things,” he said.