The Miss World pageant has announced that Uzbekistan and Kosovo are among the countries planning to field their first-ever entrants in the world's longest-lived international beauty contest.
Indonesia is hosting this year's pageant in September, with events planned in Indonesia's capital city, Jakarta, and the province of Jakarta.
Other first-timers are Cameroon and Guinea, bringing the total number of competitor countries to 110.
Participation requires a financial commitment and national pageant infrastructure -- via a licensee -- to choose a candidate.
But it can be controversial, as when the organizer of the Miss Malaysia World contest felt obliged to withdraw four Muslim finalists
after a regional mufti's fatwa declared beauty pageants insulting and un-Islamic. As one Malaysian cabinet minister was quoted as saying, it's "not about the rule of no bikinis. The fatwa clearly states that Muslim women cannot join beauty pageants."
The swimsuit competition is the oldest (and most controversial) element of the Miss World contest but has been abandoned in light of conservative religious and societal tastes in the host country.
The "Beach Fashion" event this year will instead be a parade of contestants in sarongs, the loose-fitting wrap that is prevalent throughout much of South and Southeast Asia, as well as in parts of Africa, Arab countries, and many island nations.
Uzbekistan is the third of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia in the competition, after Kazakhstan
Tashkent-born Rahima Ganieva was crowned in a national competition in late July.
The Miss World pageant took the extra step of including some points of interest about Ganieva's homeland in its "Introducing... Uzbekistan!"
Here are five interesting facts about Uzbekistan!
1. The way to greet an Uzbek woman is by bowing to her with your right hand placed over your heart.
2. Al-Khwarizmi, who introduced the use of Arabic numbers and founded algebra, was born in Uzbekistan.
3. In 2002, ancient pyramids were discovered by Russian and Uzbek archaeologists in the Kashkadarya & Samarkand regions of Uzbekistan. They are believed to be as much as 2,700 years old.
4. Uzbekistan is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world. (The other one is Liechtenstein.) A doubly landlocked country is one that is landlocked by other landlocked countries.
5. In Uzbekistan, lipioshka (bread) is never laid upside down and is never put on the ground, even if it is in a bag.
Kosovo is to be represented by 21-year-old Antigona Sejdiu
Pristina has fielded contestants in the rival Miss Universe competition since 2008, when it declared independence from Serbia. Kosovo is still unrecognized by Serbia and Russia -- both of which will be competing in Indonesia in September -- though it has been recognized by 101 countries worldwide.
Miss Kosovo Antigona Sejdiu
Kosovo also has sent beauties to the Miss Earth competition, an international contest that aims to promote environmentalism.
Such international pageants are under increased pressure from critics who regard them as insulting to women, but they continue to draw major sponsorship and entertainment deals.
The Miss World pageant grew out of a bikini contest that was purportedly renamed once organizers learned that a Miss Universe competition was on the way.
It fell under a cloud when it chose Nigeria's capital, Abuja, to host its 2002 competition at a time when a Nigerian divorcee was facing execution by stoning under Shari'a law for having a child out of wedlock. That woman, Amina Lawal
, later had her sentence overturned.
China won the Miss World competition in 2012, when it also hosted the spectacle.
-- Andy Heil