- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Islamic Leaders in Uzbekistan

Eric McGlinchey


This report analyzes the degree to which Uzbekistan’s Islamic elite are loyal to the Uzbek government.

Main Argument

Competing incentive structures determine how Uzbekistan’s Islamic elite respond to the state. Whereas political elites respond to patronage flows from the top, independent Islamic leaders in Uzbekistan are supported by Uzbek society, and it is to society’s demands—and not those of President Islam Karimov or the state—that Uzbekistan’s imams (local religious leaders) respond.

Policy Implications

The United States should be aware that, despite the current Uzbek government’s attempt to equate independent Islam with militant Islam, both forms of Islam are present in Uzbekistan and both forms pose threats to the Karimov regime’s continued legitimacy and stability:

  • Militant Islamists seek the forcible overthrow of the Karimov government and its replacement with an Islamic caliphate.
  • Independent Islamic leaders, by rejecting government propaganda and providing the general population sanctuary from authoritarian rule in their mosques and communities, are allies for those who seek political reform in Uzbekistan.