Shaymaa Abdelrahman, a 20-year-old from Kirkuk, became the first person to claim the title of Miss Iraq since the event was last held in 1972. The first and last time Iraq participated in a major international beauty pageant was in 1972 when Wijdan Burhan al-Deen represented the country at the Miss Universe contest. The pageant was held in a hotel in Baghdad and involved the eight contestants posing in dresses and high heels, before pitching ideas for charity projects to the judges.
The pageant has been put off during decades of conflict, impossible even for the contestants to throw off altogether. The event was originally meant to be held in October but was delayed due to some of the contestants receiving death threats. The pageant website and its Facebook page were inundated with death threats against the women — so much so that the nearly 200 participants dropped to less than ten. Eight finalists competed yesterday for the crown after at least two dropped out of the competition after receiving death threats.
Organisers tried to stick to criteria of other international events, but made concessions to cultural sensitivities. For example, swimsuits have been replaced with a more conservative outfit, though a ban on Islamic headscarves remains, in keeping with the protocol of western pageants.
In an interview with the Times of India, Shaymaa revealed that she dreams of visiting India and meeting the Jazbaa actress. She said:
One of my dreams is to visit India, meet Aishwarya Rai and ask her for secrets of success. I’ve read about her and love the way she manages her life.