In Algeria, the number of attempts of self-immolation is growing on a daily bases with seven confirmed cases and an eighth attempt that has been reported by the Algerian press on Wednesday.
The victims in Algeria include a father of three, a young unemployed activist and a forty-year-old woman from the city of Sidi Ali Benyoub in the Province of Sidi Belabas. In the latest (number eighth) case, a thirty seven year old food vendor and father of six children tried to set himself in fire by splashing gasoline over his body. According to the local media, the victim had a prior altercation with a police officer who tried to stop to him from selling his goods in the city of El Oued, not far from the border with Tunisia.
This new wave of political and social protests is very distressing as it claims the lives of desperate and vulnerable people, young and old, men and women. In the face of these grim images and desperate acts, the leadership in the Arab world remains silent and voiceless. The level of denial at the highest level in some Arab capital is shameful. The acts of citizens killing themselves in self-immolation are direct , harsh and unforgiving verdicts on some Arab leaders and their poor management of the affairs of their people.
Alas, the “Arab leadership” has not learned from the Tunisian experience. When a high ranking Egyptian official dismisses the Tunisian revolt as a “local incident “ that will not affect any other country in the region, or when the Algerian Minister of Interior describes the young Algerian protesters who came out in massive demonstrations against corruption in Algeria as “youth who love violence”, then the Arab political either elite lives in complete denial or self-induced coma.
The suicide is a sin in Islam and for a Muslim to commit it; he or she must be beyond desperate. The dismissal by Algerian and Egyptian leaders of such incidents as just isolated acts is an invitation to social trouble and political upheaval. The pictures of Egyptians and Algerians on fire are a shameful testament to the ambivalence and the casualness of some Arab governments toward their most helpless citizens.
A month ago, Ben Ali’s Tunisia was a “progressive”, modern and stable country. It took an isolated act by a susceptible but proud young educated vegetable vendor to bring down this “stable government.” Yet this ongoing and fast developing revolt has not sent the right message to some “pre-historic” leaders in the region.
As the world press continues to report on acts of defenseless self-immolation in Arab countries, the average Arab looks exposed and mortified. Some Arab leaders rather see their own citizens die a horrific death than look inward into ways to improve the lives of their people.
It is worth remembering that initially the Tunisians never intended to remove Ben Ali, but rather ask for economic justice and equal access to employment. Ben Ali is in exile today because he underestimated the power of his people and chose to bully them. This approach seems to be the norm among some Arab leaders; the next regime to fall would be the one that follows the “Ben Ali doctrine”.
By HASSAN MASIKY