The Death of Islam Karimov and the Unraveling of Authority in Uzbekistan

The Death of Islam Karimov and the Unraveling of Authority in Uzbekistan
Mourners watch the funeral procession of President Islam Karimov, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept. 3, 2016 (AP photo).

On Aug. 26, Uzbekistan’s state media abruptly announced that President Islam Karimov had passed a new resolution: This year, in addition to the annual Independence Day festivities on Sept. 1, the following day, Sept. 2, would also be a national holiday. According to the Uzbek media, the extra day off was necessary “for the creation of favorable conditions for the rest of the population, and the rational use of working time.”

It is unlikely that Karimov actually signed off on this resolution, though. By Aug. 26, Uzbekistan’s first and only president was brain-dead, having had a massive stoke, as confirmed by the Finnish surgeon who was flown in that week to try to save him.

For the next seven days, the Uzbek government struggled with how to control the news of Karimov’s grave condition. On Aug. 28, his daughter, Lola Karimova, shared details on Instagram, forcing the state media to acknowledge that the 78-year-old Karimov was ill, while adding that his doctors were hopeful about his recovery. Uzbeks who opposed Karimov did not buy it: One cartoon widely spread among the opposition showed an Uzbek state official standing over Karimov’s death bed, saying to a doctor, “For now we’ll say he’s sick; after the holiday we’ll have a different story.” This turned out to be exactly what happened.

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