Egyptian injured in self-immolation protest


AN EGYPTIAN man yesterday set himself alight yesterday to protest the rising cost of living and political repression, mimicking the mid-December self-immolation of a young Tunisian that set into motion popular protests that drove that country’s president into exile. The Egyptian, a provincial restaurant owner, staged his demonstration near the parliament in Cairo with the aim of producing maximum effect.

He poured fuel over himself and set himself alight when approached by bystanders and security men. The flames were quickly smothered and he was rushed to hospital where he was treated for burns to his face and hands.

Self-immolation has rarely been used by Egyptians as a means of protest. It has instead been employed by women in abusive marriages or those forced to marry rejected suitors.

The Tunisian, a 26-year-old graduate called Mohamed Bouazizi, who became an instant hero to Tunisians and many young Arabs when he set himself on fire on December 17th over the lack of jobs for educated youth and the confiscation by police of his vegetable cart. Tunisians promptly took to the streets, the intensity of their demonstrations escalating after Bouazizi died on January 3rd. The protests, which drew people from all sectors of society, peaked last Friday, precipitating the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

While the Egyptian foreign ministry has reacted cautiously to events in Tunisia, stating Cairo respected the choice of the Tunisian people, the independent Egyptian press has been outspoken in praise of Bouazizi and of the Tunisians’ strategic use of people power.

Writing on the website of al-Destour, Ibrahim el-Issa said the Tunisians have shown the Arabs are not politically dead or without dignity. He observed that the Arab world could erupt at any moment in revolt instead of silently surrendering. He said the collapse of the Ben Ali regime demonstrated that the US cannot protect its Arab allies from people who reject tyranny and dictatorship.

Mr Issa castigated opposition parties in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, saying they were only for “decoration”. He argued that change will sweep away authoritarian allies of the US in the Arab world.

On Sunday, the Egyptian government said it could extend the deadline for small parties represented in parliament to submit candidates for next September’s presidential election to stand against the nominee of the ruling National Democratic Party, expected to be incumbent Hosni Mubarak, now 83 and ailing.

Muhammad Khudairy, a former judge, remarked the proposal could be a response to the toppling of the Tunisian leader. “Fiddling around in the constitution is what this is,” he stated. “It comes now because there is fear that the situation in Egypt may explode like it did in Tunisia . . . and we are waiting for this to happen.”

A wealthy Mauritanian businessman set himself alight yesterday to protest the government’s treatment of his tribe, and five Algerians set fire to themselves over the past five days. “Tunisia is now the model to follow for all Arabs,” said Muhammad Lagab, a university professor.