Women are ignoring death threats from religious extremists for a chance to become the first internationally-recognized Miss Iraq in more than four decades.
More than 150 women have applied for the pageant,which organizers say is a chance to “create life in Iraq”
and “revive our country” after years of bloodshed and internal chaos.
Photo: From the pageant’s Instagram account However, 15 hopefuls have already dropped out of the competition amid a barrage of criticism — and even death threats — from hardliners.
The controversy hasn’t been enough to deter contestants such as Shaima Qassem Abdulrahman, a 20-year-old economics student from Kirkuk.
“Our people are badly in need of such cultural activities,”
the freshman told NBC News. “After all we have been through, we need to do something new that would reform our society.”
Like many Iraqis, Abdulrahman has been directly affected by the violence brought to her country by ISIS.
Two of her cousins were members of Iraq’s federal police until they were killed while fighting the militants.
Five of her fellow contestants were also forced to find new homes last year after ISIS overran the northern city
Explaining her decision to enter the contest,Abdulrahman said that “such activities can rebuild what has been destroyed.”
Wijdan Burham El-Deen Sulyman. The last woman to represent Iraq in the Miss Universe pageant in 1972 Iraq has a long history of holding beauty pageants.
In the 1930s, women competed at monthly events including “Miss Baghdad” and “Baghdad’s Queen of Beauty,” according to an article published in Nina Iraq magazine.
“”Our message is to show the world … that we are a civilized country””
Wijdan Burhan al-Deen, who won in 1972, was the last internationally-recognized Miss Iraq. She went on to represent her country at Miss Universe the same year.
Since then, pageants have been held under various monikers but none were in accordance with international
standards — a prerequisite for having a shot at Miss Arab and then the global Miss World event.
With a televised final in December, Iraq will follow in the footsteps of other Muslim-majority countries including Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, which are already participants in international pageants.
“In the past I heard that such contests used to be held in Baghdad — I dreamed of being a part of one of these contests,” Abdulrahman said.
An applicant being interviewed at the auditions of Miss Iraq at Al-Mada TV studios in Baghdad.
This year, the organizers hope the contest will offer the chance to show a calmer, more fun-loving side to their troubled country.
“Our message is to show the world that … we are a civilized country,” said Humam Al-Obaidi, sales director of the Al-Mada media group which is organizing the competition. “We want to rebuild Iraq again according to
Al-Obaidi hopes Miss Iraq could be far more than a beauty pageant; he said he is looking to find an “Iraqi ambassador to the world.”
The winner, he said, should be “a woman who is going to carry the message to the world that we love life …
She will talk about how great Iraq and Iraqis are, and how Iraqis are struggling to stay alive.”
While a beauty contest won’t be able to solve the country’s security problems, Al-Obaidi said it could give Iraq a much needed PR overhaul, letting the world know that there is more to the country than strife.
“Everybody around the world thinks that Iraq is connected to wars and terrorism,” he said. “We are trying to change this picture.”Not everyone agrees.
The backlash saw 15 contestants drop out of the competition, said Iraqi fashion designer Sinan Kamel,who is one of the judges. Reuters reported that least two of these women had received death threats