Shaima Qassem Abdulraham, First Miss Iraq Crowned Since 1972

Shaima Qassem Abdulraham, a 20-year-old economics student from was the first Miss Iraq crowned in Baghdad since 1972, despite heavy criticism and death threats, NBC News reports.

“I want to prove that the Iraqi woman has her own existence in society, she has her rights like men,” said Abdulrahman, who hails from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. “I am afraid of nothing, because I am confident that what I am doing is not wrong.”

The pageant had more than 150 applications, and the organizers said that after many years of violence, it was a chance to revive the country and “create life in Iraq.”

“What we’re hoping to accomplish is to make Iraq’s voice heard, show that it is still alive, that its heart is still beating,” said Senan Kamel, Miss Iraq’s artistic director in an article for The Guardian.

Many factors stood in the way of making the pageant happen. According to The New York Times, tribal leaders proclaimed that the pageant was immoral and not Islamic. In response to death threats posted on the official Miss Iraq Facebook page, the organizers moved the event to December from it’s original October date and some of the contestants pulled out of the competition.

Out of respect for the conservative Muslim culture, the organizers adapted and toned down aspects of the contest, including replacing swimsuits with a more reserved outfit. This was done because the culture frowns upon public displays of women’s bodies, but even this segment was cut from the final show.

The newly crowned Miss Iraq at first was banned from participating by her parents, but convinced them otherwise.

“In the past I heard that such contests used to be held in Baghdad,” said Abdulrahman, in an NBC News interview in October. “I dreamed of being a part of one of these contests.”

According to The Guardian, Abdulraham plans to use her notoriety to promote educational opportunities, particularly for the large population who were displaced by the conflict.

“This event was huge and put a smile on the faces of the Iraqis,” said Abdulraham, who was happy to see “Iraq going forward.”

However, not all are pleased by the news of the recent Miss Iraq crowned. The Jerusalem Post reported that Abdulraham got a phone call on Tuesday threatening her that if she didn’t join ISIS, she would be kidnapped. While Abdulraham was said to be distressed by the call, she won’t let this most recent threat stop her from representing Iraq in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant to be held in March 2016 in Bangkok.

This isn’t the first time she has been affected by violence; two of her cousins who were members of the Iraqi federal police were killed while fighting ISIS.

Faisal Al Yafai, a writer for the United Arab Emirates based news site The National, called the Miss Iraq pageant “a sham of stability.”

“The pageant has been reported as a sign of stability and progress, both for the country and for women,” said Al Yafai. “But it is nothing of the sort.”

Al Yafai continued. “In terms of women’s rights, Iraq has actually gone backwards in the past 15 years.”

He noted that while Iraqi women were celebrated for their physical beauty in one city, other Iraqi women are enslaved for their bodies in another city. He also criticized the pageant’s ban on head scarfs, a garment many Iraqi women wear.

“How is subscribing to an outsider’s sense of beauty meant to celebrate the Iraqi woman?” asked Al Yafai.

Still, many who attended the pageant stand with the newly crowned Miss Iraq. Ahmed Leith, the pageant’s director told CNN that Iraq needed it to happen.

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

One can only hope that the newly crowned Miss Iraq, will have a sense of normalcy in her life as well.

(Photo by Karim Kadim/Associated Press)