The Mysterious Miss Uzbekistan: Who's That Girl?

Rakhima Ganieva (courtesy Miss World)

Rakhima Ganieva from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, appears to have everything it takes to be a perfect Miss World contestant: She's a college-bound 18-year-old with brown wavy hair and dewy, dark eyes. She loves travel, tennis, and playing the piano. And she's no airhead. "When I have some free time," she writes in her Miss World introduction, "I like to read a good book … My favorite writers are Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy." She's also her country's first contestant to participate in the pageant. The catch is, officials from Uzbekistan deny sending her and say they have no clue who she is.

Related: Miss World Opens in Indonesia After Protests

EurasiaNet, a news service that covers Central Asia and the Caucuses, reports that the Uzbek Culture and Sports Ministry and the national committee on women have claimed they had no information on Ganieva's entrance into the Miss World pageant, which kicked off in Indonesia on September 8. Furthermore, they denied there was ever a Miss Uzbekistan contest at all. According to the Miss World Website, Ganieva was crowned in her country on July 20, but there is no footage available of that event and scant reporting on it aside from beauty pageant blogs.

Related: Miss World Organizers Say Bali Finale Impossible

Primping with Miss Russia (Facebook/Miss-World-Uzbekistan) A spokesperson for Pro Models modeling agency in Tashkent, which represented Ganieva for a short time when she was 15, told EurasiaNet, "Rakhima Ganieva never passed through any special selection process in Uzbekistan. If there had been a process to choose a young lady for this competition, I can assure you that a much more beautiful model would have been chosen." He added, "I'm sorry that Ganieva is choosing to build a career on lies." Neither Miss World officials nor Ganieva could be reached for comment. Ganieva's official Facebook page features posts from well-wishers and casual photos with other contestants, but no hint of the dispute.

Even Gulnara Karimova, daughter of longtime President Islam Karimov, tweeted that Ganieva was a "Tajik-looking girl" who "came out of nowhere," implying that she wasn't even from Uzbekistan.

The mystery of Ganieva seems a fitting tale for Uzbekistan, a country where "reality" can shift on the whim of authoritarian leader Karimov, whose daughter Karimova has been described in a 2010 WikiLeaks cable as a "robber baron," who is the country's "most-hated" figure. According to the Guardian, corruption runs rampant in the country and the government has been linked to organized crime. If Ganieva manages to win a top spot in the pageant's grand finale on September 28, will her journey have a fairy-tale ending or be more of a horror story given that her very presence defies the official word of her home country?

Meanwhile, Miss World officials have plenty of other controversies to wring their hands over. Last week, thousands of Islamist hard-liners took to the streets across the country to protest the pageant by burning effigies of the officials and parading goats wearing sashes. Indonesian officials have asked that the finale be moved from Jakarta to Bali for security, but organizers say that would be logistically impossible at this point.

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