Self-Immolation in the Arab World

Five young men set themselves on fire in Rabat, Morocco last month. (For more on the Rabat protests, see Marissa’s post from February 11th)

This relates to part of the discussion we had in class today, during the Tunisia group presentation, about self-immolation as a form of protest. It appears that this is becoming more common in Arab countries, perhaps signifying increasing frustration and desperation among citizens.

Click on the New York Times headline below to see the full article that appeared in the news in January (it should open in a new window or tab).

Self-Immolation Is on the Rise in the Arab World

BEIRUT, Lebanon — More than a year after a young Tunisian set himself on fire and touched off revolutions throughout the Arab world, self-immolation, symbolic of systemic frustration and helplessness, has become increasingly common across the region.

The five men in Rabat were unemployed university graduates. According to the Times, the official unemployment rate in Morocco is 9.1 percent nationally, but it is 16 percent for university graduates. The Times also said that the Arab media has been paying little attention to these recent self-immolations across the entire region.

– Svati Narula

Recent Protests in Rabat

Unemployed graduate, Idriss el Ouali Alami, made a particularly poignant comment stating,  “There is no desire or will to change the situation. If there was a will, we would not be here. Why should we be blamed because we managed to study and have high diplomas? Why should our faith be thrown in the streets?”

Alami illustrates an increasing trend in Morocco and the United States– the unemployed of recent college graduates. With college graduation in the not to distant future, I can empathize with Alami’s complaints and frustration. However, I do not support the use of self-immolation that has become common practice in the Middle East after the Tunisian fruitseller set himself on fire when humiliated by the police. Self-immolation is too destructive and violent a means of expression one’s opinion.

The protests that began on February 20, 2011, made the Moroccan government aware of citizens’ increasing disenchantment with their nations’ economic and political practices. Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane recently gave an outline of the government’s plans to target national economic growth which in turn would boost employment. This illustrates that the government is looking to address the staggering rates of unemployment in Morocco which fall around 21.9% for recent college graduates. Reforms are also expected to come in housing and in education. After the Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won the majority of seats in  the late November election, I think that there is a good chance that national reforms will be implemented. King Mohammad supports such reforms and the PJD has promised to increase democracy and curb corruption. Stabilization of the Moroccan economy depends on a stable government. Hopefully, the government will listen to the voices of the people and look to institute policies that increase social welfare.