TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN. On March 1st, 2014, Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Party of Islamic Renaissance of Tajikistan, declared to be convinced that the Central Asian states will go through a similar kind of events occurred in Ukraine in the foreseeable future. Kabiri made this statement during a meeting with the youth wing of his party, which is currently in the opposition. In explaining his argument, he pointed to political, economic and social problems in Ukraine and Central Asia, such as a weak economy, poverty and authoritarianism. These elements would result in mounting social unrest, eventually leading up to an outbreak of civil protest.

Furthermore, the British weekly, The Economist, recently published a list of countries at risk of social uprising in 2014. Interestingly, Uzbekistan was the sole Central Asian state featured on this list, placed in the category of with a very high risk of outbreak of mass protests.

These grounds serve to evaluate the probability of upcoming revolution in Central Asia, with a particular focus on Tajikistan’s neighboring state, Uzbekistan. The following three main points serve to clarify the Uzbek political environment and are influential in defining the near political future of Uzbekistan:

  1. The president, Islam Karimov (76 years), has been governing Uzbekistan for 23 years. He is aging and, according to some opposition media resources, in bad health and gradually being abstracted from the power by the National Security Service officials and some other powerful players.
  2. The upcoming presidential elections, to be held in 2015, growing rumors of Karimov’s family feud and the destruction of his eldest daughter’s business leave a lot of question about the presidential “throne” and its owner. Previously, his eldest daughter was expected to be the chosen successor.
  3. The Uzbek political system is repressive and authoritarian regime, criticized by international community for the police control over the population, widespread corruption, censorship of freedom of speech, human rights abuse, oppression of opposition forces and faltering and anti-popular economic policies. The harsh economic conditions and the closed political system has resulted in covert discontent among the population and growing anger towards the Uzbek elites.

These points give a certain foundation to Kabiri’s statement of the foreseen overthrow of a ruling regime in Central Asia. Nonetheless, despite the above-mentioned arguments, the reality of present-day Uzbekistan makes prospects for a revolution in the short term doubtful at the least. Particularly this is so due to the fact of some lacking conditions in Uzbekistan, which may be not so favorable to revolution:

1. The existence of a strong opposing political party or movement;

The Uzbek parliament is a puppet structure, there is no real opposing political party represented. Independent parties are being suppressed, banned and denied registration under a restrictive procedure. Meanwhile parties seated in Parliament have no interest in advocating alternative policies and reforms. Unlike Ukraine, the majority of the Uzbek population does not take an interest in politics and is unaware of politicians or social leaders.

The one union force that has potential to unite the local population is the Islamic religion. Although Islamic political movements and parties are suppressed and leaders are in exile, assistance may be readily available from Afghanistan-based military groups in case civil unrest may surface. However, it is doubtful that they would stand a chance against the large numbers of the Uzbek armed forces and police. Unless they can convince them to change sides.

2. The presence of a group of influential officials and businessmen aiming power;

It is indisputable that there are powerful personalities in both government and business who would like to see changes in the Uzbek political environment. However, it goes too far to say that they would join forces to provoke demonstrations of popular discontent. Moreover, most of these individuals currently benefit (sufficiently) from the existing system.

3. Growing popular discontent turning into protracted mass protests and demonstrations;

The population is not a source of power in this sense. Socio-political mobilization is weak and there is a traditional preference – “silently” overcome any type of obstacle. This holds particularly true after experiencing the Andijan massacre in 2005, which proved the fact that the government is willing to open fire on its own population in case of a popular rising.

Notwithstanding the forecast of The Economist, the conditions as laid out above, lead to conclude that Kabiri, in predicting the prospect of revolution in Central Asia, was not referring to Uzbekistan. At least, not for now…