Uzbekistan will soon make its first transition of power since it became an independent state more than 25 years ago. In this episode, we discuss expectations for Uzbekistan’s upcoming presidential election after the recent death of President Islam Karimov, and explore the country’s domestic and foreign affairs.
The Power Transition
Long-time president Karimov had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since it became an independent state after the fall of the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan’s human rights record was “atrocious” under his rule, as the government held thousands of political prisoners, controlled media organizations, and committed violence against protesters. The next president will likely be another strongman from Karimov’s inner circle who will continue the former president’s policies.
Uzbekistan has the largest population and military in central Asia. It is an active player in the region, with a history of border disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an international organization run by China and Russia with the goal of defeating terrorism. China and Russia use this alliance to maintain influence in Uzbekistan and the larger central Asia region.
Karimov’s fight against terrorism led to political persecution of Muslims, many of whom fled the country. His secular government—in a country whose culture has a significant Islamic influence—branded his political opponents as Islamic extremists. Some radicalized Uzbeks have joined the Islamic State and al Qaeda in their Middle East operations. Radicalization and emigration will continue as the Uzbekistani government maintains its policy of persecution.
Take a look at some of our favorite articles that we came across while researching this topic:
- Uzbekistan profile – Leaders: Islam Karimov, BBC
- Can Uzbekistan’s New Leader Balance Russia, China, and the U.S.?, Reid Standish, Foreign Policy
- Uzbekistan After Karimov, Erica Marat, Foreign Affairs