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Ben Graham, news.com.au
December 18, 2017 2:45am
SARAH Idan was living her dream a month ago when she represented Iraq in the Miss Universe pageant — but just one innocent selfie has changed everything.
It was a historic appearance in the competition for the Middle Eastern country which had been absent from contest for 45 years.
“I was on cloud nine, I had been dreaming of that forever,” Ms Idan, 27, told CNN.
It was there the budding singer-songwriter bumped into Adar Gandelsman, Miss Israel, and they thought it would be a gesture of peace and harmony to appear in a photograph together.
Idan did not expect such a strong backlash against her. Source: AFP/Thomas Coex.
“I said: ‘Let’s take a picture so our people can see we don’t have a problem and we’re actually ambassadors for peace’,” Ms Idan told CNN.
The Iraqi posted a selfie of the pair on her Instagram page with the caption, “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.” However, the reaction quickly became hostile.
Iraq country does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, and the two countries are considered enemies — but unexpected death threats to Ms Idan and her family were so severe they were forced to flee their homeland in fear.
“My mom was freaking out. I told her: ‘Mom, just get out. Get out.’ I told her I’m sorry and asked if she wants me to leave the competition. I was ready to drop out right then,” Ms Idan told CNN.
“When I posted the picture I didn’t think for a second there would be blowback.
“I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq organisation going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary.
“People in Iraq recognised my family, they immediately knew who they were. And they were getting death threats.
“The director of the Miss Iraq organisation called me and said they’re getting heat from the ministry. He said I have to take the picture down or they will strip me of my title.”
However, she decided not to take the controversial picture down.
In another Instagram post, Ms Idan apologised to those who thought the photo was “harmful to the Palestinian cause,” clarifying that it was not a political statement, but instead meant to “express hope and desire for peace between the two countries”.
Ms Gandelsman has spoken out in support of Ms Idan after the backlash.
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, Miss South Africa 2017 was crowned Miss Universe. Picture: AFP.
“The two of those things together caused a mess for her back home where people made threats against her and her family that if she didn’t return home and take down the photos, they would remove her (Miss Iraq) title, that they would kill her,” Ms Gandelsman told Israeli TV, Times of Israel reported.
Ms Idan told CNN she was feeling angry about the fallout from the selfie and being forced to wear a more modest swimsuit in the televised competition.
“A lot of people have the wrong idea about Iraq, and while we do have extremists, we also have good people,” she told the network. “Most of the good people go unnoticed.”
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