Monday, January 17, 2011

Self immolation reports spread through north Africa

The popular gripes in Tunisia that have caused disturbance in the government were sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed college mark off, who set himself on fire in protest. He later died. Now, reports are coming in from other countries in the region Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania that other protesters are turning to self-immolation.

In Egypt, Abdo Abelmonem Gafr, a baker from a town outside Cairo, set himself on fire outside the parliament building in the capital on Monday, an Interior Ministry official said. Gafr has burns to his face but is living and not badly hurt, ministry spokesman Alla Mahmood said. A police officer put the fire out. Gafr's motives and his age were not immediately known.

In Algeria, security officials said Sunday that three people set themselves on fire in protest. Riots and demonstrations have exploded in Algeria in recent days. Much like in Tunisia, Algerians are aggravated over the economy, rising food prices and what they feel is a government that's not reacted to their needs.

News reports out of Mauritania say a man set himself on fire Monday in front of the presidential palace. Reports recognize the man as Yacoub Dahoud, who posted a Facebook message praising Bouazizi and vowing, "We will never forget you."

"The Arab world's terrible new trend: self-immolation," wrote Blake Hounshell of the blog on Monday. "There is something terrible and, in a way, moving about these suicide attempts. It's a shocking, desperate method that instantly attracts attention, revulsion, but also sympathy," Hounshell, Foreign Policy's organization editor, wrote.

Throughout the Tunisia protests, experts have been saying similar expression could spread to other nations in the region.

In a country with a long-time president and a young, underemployed population, the incident became a symbol for millions. Other Arab nations face similar conditions large populations of young people, anger over the economy, and a government that many feel fails to stand for them.

A 2008 study by doctors in Iran, titled "Self-immolation in Iran" and published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research, says, "On purpose self-inflicted burn is rare in high-income countries, but is reported more often in low- and middle-income countries, especially in Asia and Africa."

The study, which has a theoretical on, adds, "Unemployment was a risk factor for self-immolation, while mental disorder and lack of access to health and treatment facilities did not play an important role for increasing the rate of self-immolation."

At Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 2001, five people lit themselves on fire in front. One died. A police report recognized them as members of the banned Falun Gong movement. But Falun Gong denied any connection to that incident, saying what became known had "nothing to do with Falun Gong practitioners."

It is too soon to know whether the reports coming in of self-immolations are connected, and whether those lighting themselves on fire are eager to spark protests in their countries.

But as the events in Tunisia show, leaders of other nations in the region who face anger from a young, aggravated, underemployed population have reason to be on guard.