Tuesday, January 18, 2011
CAIRO/ALGIERS: The self-immolation that set off the protest wave which toppled Tunisia’s leader has led to apparent copycat protests in other Arab states, with four men setting themselves on fire in Algeria and one each in Egypt and Mauritania.
In Khartoum, Sudanese Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi said Monday that a Tunisia-style uprising is “likely” in the North amid mounting economic woes and fears over the South’s looming secession.
Across the Arab world there have been grievances similar to those in Tunisia over unemployment, housing difficulties, soaring prices as well as demands for more political openness.
In Cairo, a man set himself ablaze 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 unrest in Tunisia, newspapers gave their first reports 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 Yaaqoub Ould Dahoud, 40, a company director and member of a wealthy family, staged a self-immolation protest 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.
The protests that brought down Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali erupted after the suicide of 26-year-old vegetable trader Mohammad Bouazizi, who set himself on fire on Dec. 17 because police seized his grocery cart. Bouazizi died weeks later of his burns.
In Egypt, authorities are adamant that there will be no large-scale unrest. “We do not want this to be another Tunisia, we are looking after the public good,” an Egyptian security source said.
A witness who worked in Parliament said the Egyptian man poured fuel over himself and then set himself alight when people tried to approach him Monday.
A security source who questioned the man, Abdouh Abdel Moneim, aged about 50, said he suffered only light injuries because parliamentary security quickly put out the flames.
“The man was frustrated because he could not get his ration coupons from Ismailiya [east of Cairo] to buy subsidized goods. He came to Parliament to find someone to help him,” he said.
Doctors told reporters his burns did not exceed 15 percent of his body and were mainly to the face. The local mayor said the man had a history of mental illness but Ayman Nour, a opposition politician, said Abdel Moneim had been troubled by economic conditions.
“Definitely, definitely, definitely,” Nour said when asked if there was a link between the incident and Tunisian events. “Security is leaning in the direction of making him out to be psychologically ill. I want to say that Egypt is full of psychologically troubled people because of what happens here.”
In Algeria, a man named Senouci Touat doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in the city of Mostaganem, 350 kilometers west of the capital Algiers, Al-Watan and Al-Khabar newspapers reported. His life was not in danger.
Mohsen Bouterfif set himself ablaze Thursday in Algeria’s Tebessa Province when a town’s mayor failed to secure him a house. Newspapers said Sunday he had died, but a government source later said he was alive and might survive.
In Bordj Menail, 26-year-old Aouichia Mohammad set himself on fire Wednesday. The fourth incident took place in the town of Jijel, newspapers said.
In an interview with A.F.P., Sudanese opposition leader Turabi warned that if the Sudanese president failed to share power in the face of popular protests, it would lead to bloodshed.
“This country has known popular uprisings before,” Turabi said, referring to popular revolts which toppled military regimes in the country in 1964 and 1985. “What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan,” he said.
“If it doesn’t, then there will be a lot of bloodshed. The whole country is armed. In the towns it will be a popular uprising, but in Darfur, and in Kordofan as well, they have weapons.”
“Sudan is not a small country like Tunisia but it is exposed to a risk of chaos worse than Somalia,” he said, adding: “The concept of poverty is felt,” following the adoption of austerity measures by the government on Jan. 5.
Even in the sleepy Sultanate of Oman, where social unrest is almost totally unheard of, around 2,000 people demonstrated near government ministries Monday calling for higher wages and lower prices for food.
In Libya, Dozens of Libyan citizens also demonstrated Thursday and Friday in the port city of Darnah to protest a delay in the delivery of subsidized housing units by the government, the Libyan daily Oya reported.
In neighboring Jordan, nearly a thousand Islamist and some leftist demonstrators rallied Sunday in front of Parliament, to protest price rises and free-market reforms they blame for worsening the plight of the poor in the country. – With agencies