Death by fire: Self-immolation in the Arab World

(By Deutsche Welle) As the political upheaval that began in Tunisia spreads from Egypt to Libya, dozens of people across the Arab world have publicly set themselves on fire. Are these self-immolations acts of despair or political protest?

Last December, a young unemployed street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire outside of the municipal building in the remote Tunisian town Sidi Bouzid. He died of his self-inflicted wounds weeks later.

Bouazizi’s self-immolation, the act of burning oneself to death, became the symbol of a popular uprising that toppled Tunisia’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Inspired by events in Tunisia, the Arab street protests subsequently forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and have now placed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi under siege.

As revolutionary fervor engulfs the Arab world, dozens of people from Morocco to Yemen have lit themselves on fire in front of municipal buildings, parliaments, and presidential palaces. Are these gruesome suicides acts of personal desperation triggered by hopeless social conditions, or are they a form of political protest designed to expose societal injustice and incite popular uprisings?

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