CAIRO/ALGIERS — The self-immolation that set off the protest wave which toppled Tunisia’s leader has led to apparent copycat protests in other north African states, with four men setting themselves on fire in Algeria and one each in Egypt and Mauritania.
In Cairo, a man set himself ablaze on Monday near parliament in a protest against poor living conditions.
In Algeria, where riots over the last few weeks have broken out in parallel to the unrest in Tunisia, newspapers gave their first reports on Sunday and Monday of at least four men who set themselves on fire in provincial towns in the last five days.
And in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, police sources said Yacoub Ould Dahoud, 40, a company director and member of a wealthy family, staged a self-immolation protest on Monday against alleged government mistreatment of his tribe.
Witnesses said he doused himself in gasoline while sitting in his locked car in front of the presidential palace, and set himself on fire. Security forces and passers-by broke the windows to remove him. He was sent to hospital with severe burns.
“Are we seeing a new trend?” wrote Blake Hounshell, who covers the Middle East at foreignpolicy.com, in a blog on Monday after the Egyptian and Algerian protests.
“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.”
Activists throughout the Arab world say they have been inspired by the example of Tunisia, the first country in generations where an Arab leader was toppled by public protests.
The protests that brought down Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali erupted after the suicide of 26-year-old vegetable trader Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire on December 17 because police seized his grocery cart.
Bouazizi died weeks later of his burns, becoming a martyr to crowds of students and the unemployed protesting against poor living conditions. Ben Ali had visited him in hospital, a gesture that failed to win him public sympathy.
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