Uzbekistan After Karimov

Its Grim Prospects

At a mourning ceremony for Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Samarkand, September 2016.  STRINGER / REUTERS


Update (September 8, 2016): On September 8, Uzbekistan’s parliament appointed Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev interim head of state, replacing Nigmatilla Yuldashev, the chair of the parliament’s upper house. Mirziyaev will likely ascend to the presidency in the coming months after a tightly controlled national election. His speedy appointment broke a constitutional requirement that would have kept Yuldashev as interim head of state until a vote could be held. Mirziyaev, however, still is not the most powerful figure in Uzbekistan. That position belongs to Rustam Inoyatov, who heads the country’s main intelligence agency and who will oversee the transition to Mirziyaev’s presidency. It is possible that Inoyatov’s poor health and age—he is in his early seventies—prevented him from taking over as head of state. In any case, Inoyatov and Mirziyaev are political allies, and both men are former Karimov stalwarts: in the coming months, expect a great deal of continuity from the new regime. There will be losers in this new setup, particularly elites heading other security agencies, including the National Security Council, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Defense. They will be replaced by loyalists to decrease the interagency competition that was often present under Karimov’s rule.


Sometime in the days around August 28, Uzbek President Islam Karimov died after more than 25 years in power. His passing raised a number of questions, including whether a new leader will assume power with the open agreement of political elites. In the worst case scenario, the transition could trigger a revolt among rival officials, especially those heading Uzbekistan's security agencies. In the best case, the longtime leader’s death will produce a government that is more open to the world and better at serving its citizens.

The prospects for positive change are slim. Most of today’s Uzbeks grew up under Karimov’s rule, and the country has not experienced a political transition since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Karimov took power over the newly

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