CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian man set himself on fire Monday outside the country’s parliament, security officials said, in an apparent protest emulating the self-immolation of an unemployed Tunisian man last month that helped trigger a popular uprising.
Egyptian security officials said policemen guarding the parliament building in central Cairo and motorists driving by at the time used fire extinguishers to quickly put out the blaze engulfing the man. Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahine said the man was taken to the hospital with light burns, mostly to his face, neck and legs.
The officials identified the man as Abdou Abdel-Monaam Hamadah, a 48-year-old owner of a small restaurant from Qantara, an area close to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia east of Cairo. They said Hamadah was protesting a government policy preventing restaurant owners from buying cheap subsidized bread to resell to their patrons.
A subsidized loaf of typical Egyptian flat bread sells for about 1 U.S. cent apiece, but sells for five times that much to restaurant owners.
Hamadah asked policemen guarding the parliament building to meet speaker Fathi Sorour, officials said. When they refused, Hamadah stepped back, took out a bottle filled with petrol from his pocket, doused himself with the liquid and set himself alight.
The policemen and passing motorists rushed to him with fire extinguishers to put out the flames.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The website of Egypt’s leading Al-Ahram daily said Hamadah was a father of four and had repeatedly entered heated arguments with local officials over the bread issue.
Hamadah’s act follows that of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old with a university degree, who set himself on fire after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit. He later died in a hospital near Tunis, and his desperate act touched a nerve with educated, unemployed youths nationwide in Tunisia, and sparked the mass protests that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It also follows a similar act in Algeria on Saturday. Algeria’s Liberte daily said that a 37-year-old man set himself alight over the weekend in a village near the Tunisian border, and died hours later in the hospital.
News of the Tunisian uprising has dominated the Egyptian media over the past few days, with opposition and independent newspapers lauding the fall of Ben Ali and drawing parallels between his toppled regime and that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled for nearly 30 years.
Egypt has posted impressive economic growth rates over the past few years, in part fueled by a host of ambitious reforms. But the growth has failed to filter down to many of the estimated 80 million Egyptians.
Nearly half of all Egyptians live under or just below the poverty line set by the U.N. at $2 a day. Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party have been pledging to ensure that the fruits of economic reforms benefit more Egyptians.
Self-immolation as a method of protest is uncommon in Egypt, although women in rural and poor urban areas have been known to set themselves on fire to protest violent husbands, abusive parents or an unwanted suitor.