The Arab world’s horrific new trend: self-immolation

The Arab world’s horrific new trend: self-immolation

Reports are coming in that an Egyptian man has set himself on fire in front of the Parliament building in Cairo. According to AFP, citing a source in the legislature, he "stood outside the People’s Assembly, poured fuel on himself and set himself on fire." (Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that the man first shouted, "Security service, my rights are lost in this country.")

Are we now seeing a trend? Tunisia’s unrest was sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate turned street vendor who burned himself to death after being harrassed and humiliated by local police. In recent days, as many as four Algerians have set themselves on fire to protest their country’s economic conditions. 

There is something horrifying and, in a way, moving about these suicide attempts. It’s a shocking, desperate tactic that instantly attracts attention, revulsion, but also sympathy. Even Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the now ex-president of Tunisia, tried to show his concern by visiting Bouazazi in the hospital — and directed the state press to release a photo of the encounter. (Obviously, it didn’t earn him many points on the Tunisian street.)

Just yesterday, in an unfortunate turn of phrase, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit dismissed speculation that Tunisia-style protests would spread to Egypt. “Those who are promoting fantasies and trying to ignite the situation will not achieve their goals and will only harm themselves," he said.

We’ll see.

UPDATE: Now we can add Mauritania to the list.