|Egyptian activists yesterday demonstrated in Cairo over poor living conditions. (Asmaa Waguih/ Reuters)|
CAIRO — Protesters set themselves on fire in Egypt, Mauritania, and Algeria yesterday in apparent copycat self-immolation attempts inspired by the act that helped trigger a popular uprising in Tunisia.
The incidents, while isolated, reflect the growing despair among the citizens of many Arab regimes resisting reform. They are deeply symbolic means of protest in a region that has little or no tolerance for dissent.
It was the self-immolation of a 26-year-old unemployed man in Tunisia last month that sparked the tidal wave of protests that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last week.
Ben Ali ruled with an iron fist for 23 years, time spent in the company of similarly authoritarian Arab world rulers like Libya’s Moammar Khadafy, in power since 1969, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, in office since 1981, and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled that impoverished nation since he seized power more than 30 years ago.
The stunning collapse of the Tunisian leader drew a litany of calls for change elsewhere in the Arab world, but activists faced the reality of vast security forces heavily vested in the status quo and hard-line regimes that crack down on dissent.
The men who have set themselves on fire in recent days appeared to be inspired by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian university graduate whose fruits and vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit. His death touched a nerve with educated, unemployed youths in the North African country, prompting the mass protests that toppled Ben Ali.