Is Uzbekistan's tweeting first daughter a rebel?

The World

Gulnara Karimova was a pop star in Uzbekistan. The daughter of the country's leader is also a businesswoman and even a diplomat.

And now she's apparently locked in a power struggle. Karimova, known as Googoosha, also has a Twitter account — no small deal in a reclusive country like Uzbekistan. Over the past year, her Twitter account has documented what to the world looks like a power struggle — but is it?

BBC reporter Natalia Antelava began a Twitter correspondence with Karimova and was surprised to even get replies.

"I almost fell off my chair!" she says.

But she shouldn't have been surprised. In recent months, Antelava said, Karimova's Twitter feed has become "the single most important news source on Uzbekistan." Previously, it was mostly fashion — and the occasional picture of the pop star in yoga pants.

“A lot has been happening there recently, involving Gulnara herself, who found herself in a family drama worthy of Shakespeare," Antelava said. "She’s been tweeting about it all.”

Karimova doesn’t often give interviews, but American actor Peter Allman last year asked her how she would feel if she were president of Uzbekistan.

“I probably won’t be able to answer this question before I try it,” she told Allman.

That was the first time she'd given any indication of an interest in politics. And it was a turning point in her life, it seems.

“Very soon after that, she seems to have fallen out with her father, Islam Karimov,” Antelava says. Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989.

Suddenly Karimova's empire crumbled. She lost her businesses, her charity in Uzbekistan was shut down in what she describes as a fierce battle for succession.

It’s hard to gauge what’s really going on, though. Her father accused Karimova of corruption but she believes powerful elements in the state security apparatus have been trying to shut her down, Antelava says.

All of which serves to sort of explain why Karimova has morphed from fashion queen to human rights campaigner, tweeting about torture in Uzbek prisons and  arrests in the middle of the night.

“She’s clearly standing up to the regime of her own father,” Antelava says. But it's hard to know if it's for real, or merely an act. Antelava met a number of Uzbeks, living in exile, who are terrified of Karimova — and remember her taking their businesses.

“Her record is dark,” Antelava says. But, for the moment, her Twitter account isn't. 

Listen to Natalia Antelava's BBC radio feature "Searching for Googoosha"

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