The First “Miss Iraq” in 42 Years Bravely Speaks Out Against ISIS Death Threats

For the first time in 42 years, the Miss Iraq pageant was held in Baghdad amidst a storm of controversy. The contest, which was eventually won by Shaymaa Qasim Abdelrahman, was met with death threats on the pageant’s official Facebook page, with a host of individuals threatening the lives of the female participants.

Such was the extent of these threats that the 200 contestants scheduled to take part in the event dwindled, leaving fewer than 10 women taking part in its final, with the vast majority having abandoned it out of fear of the repercussions they may have faced.

However, despite the reduced number of contestants, the pageant went ahead anyway, with director Ahmed Leith saying: “Iraq needed this.”

He continued: “The situation is weak here, and we wanted to celebrate this the same way other countries like Lebanon and others do. To have a sense of normalcy.” 

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Speaking after being crowned Miss Iraq, Shaymaa said: “I’m very happy to see Iraq going forward. This event was huge and put a smile on the faces of the Iraqis.” News.com.au reports that “the decision was popular with those in attendance, especially in the back rows, where young men with hipster beards and tight blazers had been standing on their chairs shouting her name.”

According to Kuwaita newspaper al-Watan, Shaymaa received a phone call following her win from someone claiming to be a member of ISIS, telling her to join the terrorist organization or else risk being kidnapped. 

Prior to the event, the Miss Iraq contestants were required to take part in a number of activities, including visiting a camp of displaced people in the Iraq capital. According to organizers, the event had to be pushed back from October to December after the threats made against its participants, and a planned swimsuit contest was also pulled at the last minute. However, Islamic headscarves were banned from the event, in order to remain in keeping with Western pageant rules.

Image Credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / Getty Images