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A nation must think before it acts.
Learn more about FPRI’s Central Asia Initiative
Download Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan: Democratization or Authoritarian Upgrading?
Uzbekistan is undergoing a remarkable transformation. After decades of repression and isolation under President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, the government of Shavkat Mirziyoyev has embarked on a series of reforms to soften repression, create a freer market to stimulate growth and attract foreign investment, replace Karimov-era leaders with young technocrats, and repair ties with neighboring Central Asian states. But what we are seeing in Uzbekistan is not democratization. Rather, it is “authoritarian upgrading.” Authoritarian upgrading entails selectively adopting economic and political reforms to placate the population’s demands for democratization, while existing elites capture most of the benefits of the country’s embrace of globalization and marketization. The result is a softer authoritarian regime which relies more on persuasion than coercion. So far the reforms have been welcomed by many citizens. But if the regime fails to deliver on its promises and demand for further change grows, Mirziyoyev’s new Uzbek path could meet with resistance from both those who desire a return to Karimov era repression and those wanting genuine democratization.