News of Simon Cowell Afghan fiancée: How does it play in Kabul?

Simon Cowell Afghan fiancée Mezghan Hussainy was a top talking point when the American Idol judge appeared on Jay Leno this week. Afghans are less enthralled.

By , Correspondent

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    Simon Cowell Afghan fiancée: Simon Cowell and his girlfriend (now fiancée) Mezhgan Hussainy, appear at the 18th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party, West Hollywood, California.
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The middle-aged man with a face like Yoda’s can’t say he remembers Mezghan Hussainy, the Afghan refugee engaged to American Idol’s Simon Cowell.

Although their romance has filled gossip columns in the West, with Mr. Cowell talking about their relationship on Jay Leno's 'The Tonight Show' this week and buzz about a possible wedding in September, there has been rather less of a stir in Afghanistan.

“There are many families called Hussainy,” Barat Ali says. “I don’t know which one she’s from.”

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All his life, Mr. Ali has lived in a Shiite neighborhood in west Kabul, where men chip gravestones in the mountain sunlight, children hawk knick-knacks, and slums defy gravity on the ridges and pinnacles interrupting the city.

It’s here that Ms. Hussainy’s unlikely journey to showbiz stardom began, when she was born to a wealthy family in Kabul before fleeing Soviet invaders in 1981, first to Pakistan and then later to the United States.

Those who stayed behind saw the city of walled gardens and lofty poplars destroyed by a succession of foreign armies and appallingly brutal warlords.

When seven different factions vied for control of Kabul in the 1990s, the frontlines ran through here.

In Afghanistan, women 'can't get anywhere'

Mursal Yusufi, an 18-year-old woman who works in a beauty parlor, stops applying foundation to a bride to talk.

“If she was in Afghanistan, she would never have been able to make the progress,” she says. “I’m very surprised. Anyone in Afghanistan who does well, the people think she is the enemy of Afghanistan. We have got very intelligent, talented women in Afghanistan but they can’t get anywhere. No one allows them to.”

Further down the road, where the oranges of his fruit stall glare against the tattered jacket he is wearing, Kaka Hussain claims to remember the family Hussainy.

“There were many people who left,” he says. “I remember the sons – they were the same age as me. Maybe she was from the same family.”

Life was good back then," he continues. "Their life was better than ours and ours was very good,” Mr. Hussain says. “Back then people cared about the country. In the time of the King [Zahir Shah, who reigned for 40 years], people thought to build their country. Not like now.”

Some interviewees sounded a sour note about Hussainy's engagement. But most congratulated her on her newfound fame. “I am proud of her as long as she helps Afghanistan,” he says. “It doesn’t matter man or woman, they should do something for their country.”

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