Young Afghan models risk all in catwalk beauty contest

Young Afghan models risk all in catwalk beauty contest
Winners of the Afghanistan Mr. and Miss Beauty competition Murtaza Safi and Nigara Sadaat pose for a souvenir photograph in Kabul. (AN photo)
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Updated 05 January 2021

Young Afghan models risk all in catwalk beauty contest

Young Afghan models risk all in catwalk beauty contest
  • 60 men, women aged 14-30 take part in Kabul local talent-scouting event

KABUL: In traditional Afghan dress, regional costumes, Western outfits, and some in more revealing attire, young men and women walked a red carpet to background music, taking applause from a tightly packed audience in a sprawling Kabul cafe.

Such scenes may well be familiar sights at fashion events around the world, but not in the Afghan capital. The show marked the first major beauty competition for men and women, Afghanistan’s Mr. and Miss Beauty 2020.

Sixty contestants aged between 14 and 30 participated in the recent competition to scout local talent.

Organizer, Hamid Wali, told Arab News: “It is a new concept, and has not happened before. It is the first time a fashion agency has done something that connects all the models, all the fashion.”

Wali set up the first professional Afghan modeling agency, Modelstan, in 2018 after returning from India where he worked for years in the fashion industry.

The 27-year-old’s aim is to promote local models to advertise local companies, which for years amid taboos and restrictions have relied on professionals from neighboring countries. The goal does not come without obstacles, prejudice, and accusations of foreign interference.

“We are a group of Afghan youths. Some think we are allied with a Western nation and get funding from a Western embassy. But we are not Western culture promoters, we are Afghans, we are Afghan culture promoters,” he said.

The main obstacle has been resistance from the models’ families, and Wali has tried hard to persuade them that there was nothing wrong in posing and being photographed for the media.

“We had a lot of arguments. There are a lot of families whom we had to convince,” he added.

Despite the agency’s efforts, however, the main burden rests on the models themselves with some of them willing to risk everything to follow their dream.

Nigara Sadaat, who was chosen by a jury of four women and men as Miss Beauty, said she had kept her participation in the contest secret.

“I secretly, without the knowledge and approval of my family, attended the competition. They still oppose what I have done,” she told Arab News after the show.

Sadaat has always wanted to be a model and during the show she wore modest embroidered tunics and scarves. Nevertheless, her relatives were outraged by the very act of modeling. 

“My relatives, in a humiliating manner, called my dad and informed him that ‘your daughter has become a model.’ I have not been able to go back home after the appearance of my images on media,” she said.

For now, she prefers to stay at her married sister’s house.

Mortaza Safi, who became Mr. Beauty, is in a similar predicament.

“There are some who oppose modeling in Afghanistan. My father showed the utmost opposition and refused to allow me,” said the 20-year-old, wearing a cowboy hat, thick khaki overcoat, and slim trousers.

“My dad forced me to shave my head, so that I would change my mind, and took me to a barber shop, thinking that if I lost my hair, I won’t be fit to attend the competition.”

Safi added that he had fled his hometown in northern Mazar-i-Sharif to pursue his passion for modelling and fashion. He ignored his family’s concerns and traveled through the night to Kabul for the first day of the event.

Modelling was a distant dream for the generations before them, especially during Taliban rule in the late 1990s, when women were banned from most outdoor activities, including work and education.

A possible return of the Taliban to power as a result of ongoing peace talks between the group and the Afghan government, which may lead to a new government manned by both sides, has left many fearful that their freedoms could again be curbed.

But the models vowed that whatever the future holds, they were determined to pursue their career paths.

“We all want restoration of peace here and we have no problem with the return of our Taliban brothers,” said Diana Adeeb, a young model who wore no headscarf.

She added that while the Taliban were part of Afghanistan too, they should respect the rights of others.

“We have witnessed too much trouble in modelling and faced too many risks with family and society. Our rights should not be trampled, and we should not be forced over how we should or should not be,” she said.

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
Updated 6 min 28 sec ago

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
  • NRA execs are facing charges of illegally diverting funds for lavish personal trips and other questionable expenditures
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight

AUSTIN, Texas: The National Rifle Association announced Friday it has filed for bankruptcy protection and will seek to incorporate the nation’s most politically influential gun-rights group in Texas instead of New York.
The announcement came months after New York’s attorney general sued the organization over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.
The coronavirus pandemic has also upended the NRA, which last year laid off dozens of employees. The group canceled its national convention and scuttled fundraising. The NRA’s bankruptcy filing listed between $100 million and $500 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities. Still, the NRA claimed in announcing the move that the organization was “in its strongest financial condition in years.”
The NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Dallas and said it planned to incorporate in Texas, where records show it formed a limited liability corporation, Sea Girt LLC, in November 2020. Sea Girt LLC made a separate bankruptcy filing Friday, listing fewer than $100,000 in liabilities.
In its filing, the NRA said its longtime leader, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, made the decision to file for bankruptcy protection in consultation with a “special litigation committee” comprised of three NRA officials that was formed in September to oversee its legal strategies. The NRA board voted Jan. 7 to clarify LaPierre’s employment agreement, giving him the power to “reorganize or restructure the affairs” of the organization.

National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre and other officials of the gun lobby are facing charges of diverting the gun lobby's money for lavish personal expenses. (AFP file photo)

“The move will enable long-term, sustainable growth and ensure the NRA’s continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom – free from the toxic political environment of New York,” the NRA said in a statement.
A message seeking comment was left with a Dallas lawyer who made the bankruptcy filings on behalf of the NRA and Sea Girt LLC.
Shortly after the announcement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight. Her office’s lawsuit last year highlighted misspending and self-dealing claims that have roiled the NRA and LaPierre in recent years— from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17 million post-employment contract for himself.
“The NRA’s claimed financial status has finally met its moral status: bankrupt,” James said.
The gun-rights group boasts about 5 million members. Though headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and is incorporated in the state. Going forward, the NRA said a committee will study opportunities to relocate segments of its operations to Texas and elsewhere.
The NRA’s largest creditor, owed $1.2 million, is Ackerman McQueen, which is the group’s former advertising agency that was behind the now-shuttered NRA TV service. The NRA sued the Oklahoma-based company in 2019, alleging it was being overbilled and said in Friday’s bankruptcy filing that the debt it is owed is disputed. The lawsuit is pending. A message seeking comment was left with Ackerman McQueen.
In the New York lawsuit, Ackerman McQueen was accused of aiding lavish spending by LaPierre and other NRA executives by picking up the tab and then sending a lump sum bill to the organization for “out-of-pocket expenses.”
“No financial filing can ever shroud the moral bankruptcy of Wayne LaPierre and his wife and their lap dogs on the NRA board,” said Bill Powers, an Ackerman McQueen spokesperson and former public affairs director for the NRA.
Court records also show more than $960,000 owed to Membership Marketing Partners LLC, a firm that lists its headquarters at the same address as the NRA. Another $200,000 is owed to Speedway Motorsports, the North Carolina-based company that owns and operates NASCAR tracks, according to the records.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott quickly welcomed the news, tweeting: “Welcome to Texas — a state that safeguards the 2nd Amendment.” The NRA said it has more than 400,000 members in Texas and plans to hold its annual convention in Houston later this year.