It turns out the rumors are true: Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan can boogie. (And maybe he likes a tipple.)
Videos that appeared online this week shows the Tajik strongman moving gracefully around a gilded ballroom, arms outstretched, wrists flicking, as he performs some fast-footed local dance moves.
In one video, the president belts out a duet (some might encourage him to stick to dancing) as the powerful Dushanbe mayor and potential rival Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev drifts in and out of the frame clapping his hands. In the background, Rakhmon’s eldest son stands stone-faced, hand over chest, with a veiled bride.
The videos were shot, says CA-news.org, in June 2009 at the wedding of Rustam Emomali, Rakhmon’s son and presumed heir. Coincidence, or perhaps not, this week YouTube was blocked again in Tajikistan. Users report the video-sharing site is down for the third time in the past year.
The head of Tajikistan’s Association of Internet Providers, Asomiddin Atoev, told RIA Novosti that the order to block the site came from the state communications agency. As is customary, the communications agency is not disclosing its reasoning. Over the past year the agency has regularly blocked YouTube and Facebook, as well as a host of critical news sites, often with enigmatic explanations: for example, claiming the site needs “prophylactic maintenance.” If the YouTube ban is indeed related the wedding videos, it is still unclear whether the move would have been ordered by Rakhmon himself or some over-cautious sycophants.
Many do believe this latest blockade is in response to the videos and accompanying commentary posted on the critical Central Asia-focused satellite news channel K+. In it, long-time Rakhmon critic Dodojon Atovulloev argues that the videos are indecent as they show the president flaunting ill-gained wealth in a country where the majority of his people remain impoverished. (Atovulloev was stabbed last year in Moscow in an attack he blamed on the regime in Dushanbe.) But showing off wealth won’t surprise many in Tajikistan, where demonstrations of excess among the well-connected and unaccountable upper classes are something of a national pastime.
It’s not clear how much Tajik Internet users care whether Rakhmon enjoyed himself at his son’s wedding. But the blocking of popular websites tends to get people upset. One user said he is tired of being treated like he’s not grown up enough to use the Internet. Like many others, this Dushanbe resident uses proxy servers. So, if anything, the latest blockade is backfiring, simply drawing more attention to videos the authorities seem especially eager to keep from the world.
According to CA-news.org, security officials are treating the videos as “classified” material and are actively looking for those behind the leak. One videographer told the news agency that over the past few days all camera operators who attended the wedding have been summoned to the State Committee for National Security – known colloquially as the KGB – for questioning.