Two Egyptian men, possibly inspired by events in Tunisia, attempted to set themselves on fire Tuesday in downtown Cairo, just a day after another man burned himself in front of parliament.
Police managed to quickly extinguish the fire engulfing 40-year-old lawyer Mohammed Farouq Hassan after he set himself alight outside the prime minister's office. Before setting fire to himself, he had shouted slogans against rising prices, according to one source. He was rushed to hospital with minor burns.
A second man, identified as Sayed Ali Sayed, attempted to do the same thing outside the nearby parliament building but was stopped by guards in the area. There was no word on his motive.
Tuesday's incidents come one day after protesters in Mauritania and Algeria set themselves alight in apparent attempts to copycat the fatal self-immolation of a Tunisian man that helped inspire the protests that toppled Tunisia's authoritarian president.
It also follows the self-immolation of an Egyptian man on Monday, who set himself on fire outside the parliament to protest the authorities' denying him cheap subsidized bread to resell to patrons of his small restaurant east of Cairo. The man survived with burns to his neck, face and legs.
Aside from the case in Tunisia, however, the only fatality has been a protester in Algeria Saturday.
While isolated, the incidents in Egypt, Mauritania and Algeria reflect the growing despair among much of the Arab public with no real means of expressing its dissatisfaction. They are deeply symbolic means of protest in a region that has little or no tolerance for dissent.
It was the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, 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 on Friday.
Ben Ali ruled with an iron fist for 23 years. Similarly authoritarian rulers across much of the Arab world have been in power as long or longer, like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, 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.
But Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit ruled out the possibility that Tunisia's political uprising will spread.
Self-immolation as a method of protest is uncommon in the Arab world, where many associate it with protesters in the Far East or the Indian subcontinent. But Egyptian women in rural or poor urban areas have been known to set themselves on fire to protest violent husbands, abusive parents or an unwanted suitor.
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