Uzbekistan: President's Daughter Says Leader Had Brain Hemorrhage

New light has been shed on the state of health of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov by his daughter, who has revealed that the leader has been struck by a brain hemorrhage.

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva wrote on her Instagram page that she had provided the information to “avoid misunderstandings.”

“Due to a cerebral hemorrhage that occurred on Saturday morning, he was hospitalized and is being treated in the intensive care unit,” Karimova-Tillyaeva said. “His condition is stable.”

She said that it was still too early to make any prognostications about Karimov’s health and appealed for the public to respect the family’s privacy.

Notwithstanding those exhortations, observers of developments in Uzbekistan will now turn to speculating about the seriousness of the hemorrhage and what it could mean for the country’s future.  Karimova-Tillyaeva’s vague and open-ended diagnosis for treatment suggests that Karimov is likely incapacitated and will remain so for the indefinite future.

If Karimov’s condition is at the worse end of the spectrum, the situation will raise the standard fears about potential elite instability and alarm among the population. Non-death actually presents a difficult predicament for a government used to operating in complete obscurity. Does a physically and possibly mental frail Karimov pursue the Cuban scenario, handing over power to a handpicked successor (although not necessarily a member of his family)? And if Karimov is unable to do even that, do contenders to his job begin jostling while he lies prone in a hospital bed? Authoritarian states like Uzbekistan are not well equipped to deal with such ambiguity and like their leaders to be either dead and venerable or alive and virile — not something in between.

An even more complicated scenario is one in which Karimov gradually gets better enough to resume some or all of his duties — implausible as that may seem. 

While there is some kind of consensus that ultimate power in Uzbekistan lies with National Security Service, or SNB, the successor body to the KGB, and that the country can expect fundamental continuity, one can also speculate that a new president will usher in some revision of broad policy.

One important area concerns relations with the world. The most regularly named candidate, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev, is seen as a Russia-friendly figure. Karimov was suspicious of Moscow and has typically reacted coolly to their overtures, but Mirziyayev could choose to take a different tack. But will he be able to do so with a still-alive father figure looking over his shoulder?

The other oft-named potential successor is Rustam Azimov, a business-friendly deputy prime minister whose experience and international exposure should be useful in boosting Uzbekistan’s stated mission to make itself object of global investment. Azimov’s apparent openness to the West would make him a more promising future-oriented figurehead than Mirziyayev in that respect, given Russia’s deep economic malaise, but the same question arises. Will Karimov favor a stance that upsets an assiduously nurtured policy of self-reliance?

It is often assumed sudden and unexpected deaths at the top of authoritarian systems could be recipes for instability and uncertainty. But Uzbekistan may be struggling to come to terms with something even worse than that.

Uzbekistan: President's Daughter Says Leader Had Brain Hemorrhage

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