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Uzbekistan: A Government With Too Much Power on the Loose?

Uzbekistan was under control of the Soviet Union until it became an independent nation in 1991. Until 2016, Uzbekistan still had the same leader for 25 years, Islam Karimov, and the country still had not changed. It was as if it were still under the rule of the Soviet Union. What lingers in Uzbekistan are some of the political habits left by the Soviets. Today, Uzbekistan is still living under a regime that resolutely and brutally resists change. Ever since Islam Karimov’s death, a constant struggle for power has taken over the country. But while political opponents fight to be as powerful, strict and iron-fisted as Karimov, Uzbekistan continues to struggle with a terrible human rights problem and a slow modernizing economy. It is the power of the seven clans in Uzbekistan that prevent gangs or guerilla groups from gaining power in Uzbekistan. Although the clans are very powerful, there are present to serve more as political parties in Uzbekistan, with weaker clans uniting with the three most powerful clans in Uzbekistan.

In Uzbekistan, the population is divided into seven clans, the most powerful clans being the Tashkent, Samarkand, and the Fergana clans. During Soviet control, Moscow manipulated the competition among the three clans for its own gain. Without Soviet management to limit the power of the clans, the competition between them grew more dangerous, posing a threat to the stability of the country, during Karimov’s presidency. In attempting to consolidate his power, Karimov affiliated himself with the Tashkent clan, despite being part of the Samarkand clan, and attempted to create a balance between the clans, but was unsuccessful. To strengthen the Tashkent clan once again, Karimov appointed Rustam Inoyatov as the head of Uzbek National Security Services in 1995, giving him a limitless power to rebuild the weak institution. Many believed that Karimov was preparing Inoyatov to be his successor after giving him this amount of power, but it became clear in 2014, that these were no longer Karimov’s intentions. Inoyatov used this unlimited power to strengthen the Tashkent clan, but soon enough he was the man behind alleged coup attempts, car bombings and mass arrests and counter-arrests of people he saw as opposition. Only after President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office after Karimov’s sudden death in 2016, did he remove Inoyatov from his position, which removed the center of the Karimov-era repressive machine that created a system of ever-present fear to control society.

Because Karimov was able to consolidate so much power during his authoritarian presidency, after his death concerns arose, that the predominantly Sunni Muslim country could face prolonged infighting among clans over its leadership. As a result of this fighting, the people of Uzbekistan believed that the conflict would be something the Islamic radical movement of Uzbekistan could exploit, giving an entryway for radical Islamic groups to enter Uzbekistan, a country that has made continual efforts alongside the United States, to fight against terrorist organizations. When thinking about successors, many believed that Inoyatov would become president, tapping into the people’s fears that he would be even more authoritative and oppressive than Karimov. Others also believed that Gulnara Karimova, ex-president Karimov’s daughter, would succeed him. She was a successful businesswoman that was very powerful in Uzbekistan and even once served as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Spain. Inoyatov even targeted Gulnara Karimova because of her many ties with the Fergana clan, which Inoyatov saw as opposition. Unfortunately, her chance of succeeding her father was destroyed when two corruption cases were brought against her, and she was also guilty of fraud, money laundering and concealing foreign currency, concerning assets of around $1bn (£760m) belonging to her in 12 countries. In 2014 she disappeared and she is believed to still be under house arrest, and facing the horrible conditions of the National Security Services of Uzbekistan.

Although Uzbekistan still infringes on the rights of their people, using authoritative power to restrict media and their freedom of speech, Uzbekistan and its seven clans have always made it a priority to crackdown on  Islamic extremist groups that have tried to infiltrate the country. Within the clans and political officials, there may be a constant fight for more power, but Uzbekistan’s current president and the government continues to crack down on Islamic extremists.