Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Iraq stands up with beauty pageant

In winning the first beauty pageant of her country in 43 years, Shaima Qassim let the world know that Iraq lives (see video).

Qassim, just out of teens, was one of eight contestants who overcame terrorist threats and shift of the venue from Basra to Baghdad, to be crowned first Miss Iraq since 1972 on Saturday.

A country devastated by war and terrorism since 2003, and a city rated as the worst to live in present-day world, wanted to send a “clear signal to terrorism that Baghdad is a capital of culture and beauty which can never be wiped out,” said Humam Ablobaidi, an official of the beauty pageant.

Tears welled up in the eyes of a small handful at the event over the fate of their country, known as the cradle of civilization and birthplace of writing. Iraq, meaning “the fertile,” is believed to have housed Garden of Eden as well as the venue where Noah’s Ark was built.

Baghdad is located along the Tigris River and commonly associated with the imagery of Mesopotamia and the Hanging Garden of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The 21st century though would rate as the most horrific saga of its history which has seen hundreds and thousands killed and an infrastructure cost which would run into trillions.

The sight of guards carrying a Kalashnikov and ushering in contestants to the main stage was evocative of the threats received by this brave set of Iraqis. The pageant had enough elements for Qassim to be now eligible to take part in the Miss Universe contest even though swimsuit round in bikinis was not permitted.

Contesting girls wore high heels and evening dresses that were sleeveless but fell below the knee. There was less posing and more talking during the event. Importantly as a symbol of defiance, the girls were prohibited from wearing headscarves.

Qassim, a student of economics from Kirkuk, wants to promote educational programmes. Another contestant wanted to repair the Mosul dam, the largest in the country and presently badly damaged due to ongoing fighting.

The contestants did a lot of symbolic activities in the run-up to the event. They went to refugee camps and orphanages. “We want to show the word what Iraqis have sacrificed for a peaceful life…” said Ablobaidi.

“What we’re hoping to accomplish is to make Iraq’s voice heard, show that it’s still alive, that its heart is still beating,” said another official.

According to the Guardian, “the jury’s decision (in favour of Shaima) was popular with the audience, especially in the back rows where young men with beards and tight blazers had been standing on their chairs shouting her name.”

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