Although not as isolated as North Korea, Uzbekistan conforms to all the oriental despotic hallmarks and with the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara that were the powerbase of the fanatical conqueror Tamerlane (or Timur the Lame), it should come as no surprise that President Islam Karimov should continue that tradition from his capital at Tashkent.  After all, in another post-Soviet country, Georgia, Josef Stalin is lauded.

In violently crushing any hints of protest and with allegations that he boils his political opponents alive (turn-of-the-century British ambassador Craig Murray was dismissed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after expressing his criticism too vehemently of the then key western ally), Karimov matches the brutality of Tamerlane but with recent events he is akin to another ruthless leader – the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus.  The first African raised to the purple, his streak of cruelty earned him the name ‘the Punic Sulla’ (the wars against Carthage were prefaced ‘Punic’ after Phoenicia and Sulla was a first century BC dictator famous for his lethal proscriptions on the Roman elite), purging the Senate of his opponents with at least 29 senators executed and riding his horse back and forth over the corpse of a dispatched rival.  In AD 202, Severus started to think about the succession of his dynasty.

The 75-year-old Karimov, who according to some reports is in poor health, must also be pondering who will follow him and secure his ‘legacy’.  This makes the trial of his eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, all the more surprising.  Karimova was one of the most powerful people in Central Asia.  In the words of analyst Reid Standish, ‘she was untouchable.’  Boasting her own fashion and pop music career, Karimova also represented her country at the United Nations outpost in Geneva and had her finger in many other business enterprises. Since March though she has been under house arrest with all communication barred, including her Twitter account where she had chronicled the breakdown of her relationship with her autocrat father.  In early September, state prosecutors charged her with systemic corruption.  Once considered a contender to take over the reins from her father, she may have believed too much in her own invincibility as a power vacuum emerged and misjudged the strategy of Rustam Inoyatov, head of Uzbekistan’s national security service, the SNB.

Septimius Severus made his best friend, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the imperial bodyguard and gave him further extensive responsibilities and great wealth.  According to the historian Herodian, ‘he misused this power to commit all kinds of acts of cruelty and violence in everything he did.’  Plautianus was even rumoured to castrate grown men to serve as eunuch attendants of his daughter, Publia Fulvia Plautilla.  But Plautianus is not the model for Inoyatov but Karimova.

In December 2013, Karimova claimed on Twitter that Inoyatov (who has the president’s ear) had turned her father against her in a bid for power.  A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable details Inoyatov’s role as a gatekeeper.  Like a modern-day Lucius Aurelius Sejanus (another Praetorian commander) having sole control over access to the Roman Emperor Tiberius (who for the last ten years of his life conducted imperial affairs from the island of Capri), thereby gaining a stranglehold over official appointments, Inoyatov also extorts from various cabinet ministers to keep them in line and stop any from developing close relationships with the autocrat.  Also, like Sejanus, who poisoned Tiberius’ son, Drusus, Inoyatov has poisoned Karimov against the progeny who most challenged the security chief.

Septimius Bassianus (known more famously as Caracalla, for the cloak he wore) vituperatively objected to the marriage arranged by his father Severus, betrothing him to Plautilla.  Refusing to eat and sleep with her, he threatened to kill both her and her father Plautianus when he, Caracalla, became emperor.  There are several accounts as to the denouement – in one version, Caracalla persuaded three centurions to bring false information against Plautianus, claiming the latter had ordered them to assassinate Severus and Caracalla (for Herodian the plot was real but was similarly exposed).  Either way, Plautianus was summarily killed and his body was thrown out into the street, while Plautilla was exiled to the island of Lipari.  As historian of antiquity, Chris Scarre, puts it, ‘but the hatred lived on and Caracalla had her killed as soon as he came to power.’  A similar fate could lie in store for Karimova once her father is dead.

In a sense, she has only herself to blame.  Though she was being investigated for corruption in her business dealings in Switzerland and in Scandinavia, it is rule by law rather than rule of law that prevails in Uzbekistan and there are definitely certain people who are above it.  In that way, the domestic charges brought against her would never have materialised had she maintained her exalted position.  Like haughty Empress Matilda, daughter and anointed heir of English King, Henry I, she has been deposed by a male clique.  Matilda went on to marry a Holy Roman Emperor, was widowed and then married the powerful Duke of Anjou.  Successful in battle against the usurper King Stephen, her arrogant manner alienated her subjects and she was driven out of London before she could stage a coronation. Karimova too has been punished for her presumption.

She could consider herself fortunate to date to enjoy the luxury of house arrest.  The September report by Human Rights Watch chronicles the awful abuse meted out to those who cross Tashkent’s elite.  The allegations of torture in the report include simulated suffocation, beatings, electric shock, hanging by wrists and ankles, as well as threats of rape.  Human Rights Watch says that the prisoners include people who have tried to uncover corruption or seek democratic reforms.  Prison sentences are arbitrarily extended for violation of regulations such as ‘incorrectly peeling carrots’ in the prison kitchen.  That recalls the treason trials that figured at the end of Tiberius’ reign where one distinguished ex-consul was condemned for carrying a coin, which of course bore the emperor’s likeness, into the toilet: ‘With my coin [i.e. head] in your bosom, you turned aside into foul and noisome places and relieved your bowels.’

There are upcoming elections in 2015 and though these are just for show, to ensure the efficiency of governmental machinery (like the ‘Sovereign Democracy’ as practised in Putin’s Russia), they may be the last good occasion to jockey for position and win favour from Karimov before he dies.  Though ostensibly consolidating Karimov’s power further, it illustrates his weakness as people plan for what will follow in the aftermath of his death.  In the race to become next top dog in Tashkent, Inoyatov is in pole position.