REPORTING FROM BEIRUT-- Amateur video footage said to show unemployed young Moroccans setting themselves on fire in the capital Rabat surfaced this week during widespread demonstrations over lack of opportunity in the North African nation.
An amateur clip (warning: graphic images) posted on the Euronews website shows five men standing atop a fence dousing themselves with what appears to be gasoline. Seconds later, two of the five are covered in flames before law enforcement officers and shocked onlookers, some of whom ran after the men and tried to put the fires out. Clips purportedly filmed after the incident, which tookplace on Wednesday, showed one of the men with burns across his body.
Self-immolation has become a way to invigorate protest movements in the Middle East. In Tunisia, street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight in December 2010 to protest police intimidation, an act that kicked off a popular uprising which soon ousted the longtime Tunisian ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and inspired similar uprisings in other countries in the region.
Agence France-Presse reported Friday that one of Wednesday's self-immolaters was in serious condition. Mohammed Zeidoun, in his 30s, has "very serious burns to his upper body and a 50% chance of surviving," a family member told the news agency.
According to an earlier report by online Moroccan newspaper Goud (link in Arabic), two of the men sustained second-degree burns and were to be transfered to a burn clinic in Casablanca, 50 miles south of Rabat. A third protester received minor burns. The newspaper said the men had been staging a sit-in at the Ministry for National Education in Rabat for the last 12 days.
All of them were reportedly members of the "unemployed graduates" movement, a coalition made up of associations across Morocco. The movement reportedly has millions of university graduates in need of jobs.
When security forces prevented supporters from bringing food to the protesters, five men out of about 160 protesters camped in an administration building of the ministry went outside to get food. They threatened to set themselves on fire if they were hindered, reported the Associated Press.
Morocco reportedly has a national unemployment rate of 9.1% but youth unemployment is significantly higher at 31%. The North African country also suffers from wide disparities in wealth.
Following the Tunisian revolt, pro-democracy protests erupted in Morocco in February, a country which has been ruled for more than a decade by King Mohammed VI.
In a bid to stem unrest, the king ceded some powers, proposing a new constitution with reforms and that elections to be held. But some activists remain skeptical and argue that the king retains ultimate power on political and economic issues.
On Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane reportedly told Parliament that unemployment will decrease to 8% and inflation reduced due to 5.5% growth that Morocco expects over the coming four years.
-- Alexandra Sandels
Video: An amateur video clip uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 18 appears to show scenes of chaos erupting as jobless Moroccans set themselves on fire outside a government building in Rabat that day.