Ilhan Omar Faces Backlash For Her Somalia Support

( – In a speech in Minneapolis on Saturday January 27 controversial Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar gave a speech in Somali to a local audience who presumably all spoke the language. There does not seem to have been any attempt to have a translator at the event. Clips of the speech with translation subtitles have been circulating on social media, sparking outrage from Conservatives as well as with officials from the Republic of Somaliland.

Somaliland is a small nation state that officially broke off from Somalia in 1991 but is not recognized as a sovereign country by most of the world. Part of Omar’s speech apparently had to do with Somaliland’s tension with Somalia and her remarks have been taken as almost a loyalty oath to serve Somalia’s interests as a top priority for herself on behalf of her American constituents, with the translation indicating she had referred to herself and her audience as brothers and sisters, sharing the same blood, who know they are Somali first, and Muslim second.

On January 1 Somaliland signed a memorandum with Ethiopia that if it is honored, would give them a 20-year lease on the port of Berbera on the Red Sea, as well as a 20-kilometre stretch of Red Sea coastline. This would be very advantageous to Ethiopia as they are a landlocked country. In exchange for allowing Ethiopia that access, Ethiopia would give Somaliland a stake in Ethiopian Airlines, and they would officially recognize Somaliland as a sovereign nation. This would make them the first United Nations member to do so.

Since the speech went viral, with the accompanying flurry of criticism and calls for her to resign, Omar has called the translation a slanted interpretation of her remarks. However, others have noted she didn’t say the translation was incorrect and have seen her comment as verification that she means they understood her words but maliciously misinterpreted her meaning. Somaliland’s deputy foreign minister, Rhoda Elmi says she found Omar’s speech shocking and characterized her rhetoric as “ethno-racist”. Minnesotan Republican House Majority Whip Tom Emmer referred to the speech as a violation of her oath of office and “Somalia-first”. He was among many calling for her resignation.

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