At least five other copycat burnings, which appear to be in protest of economic conditions, have been reported in four Algerian towns and in the capital of Mauritania in the past five days.
Some experts on North African politics say the toppling of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first Arab leader in generations to be brought down by public fury, has inspired and emboldened activists in the region.
"Tunisia is now the model to follow for all Arabs. The time for dictators and dictatorships is over," Mohamed Lagab, a political analyst and teacher of political science at Algiers University, told Reuters.
Policemen guarding Cairo's parliament building and some passers-by used fire extinguishers to put out the blaze surrounding Abdou Abdel-Monaam Hamadah, 48. He was taken to the hospital with burns on 60 percent of his body, Egypt's independent Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.
A Health Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press, however, that Hamadah had only light burns on his face, neck and legs.
As in Tunisia, where a 28-year-old vegetable seller set himself on fire Dec. 17 and triggered the country's recent uprising, more than half of Egypt's population lives beneath the poverty line, and the government is repressive.
Hamadah, a struggling restaurant owner in the city of Qantara, was angry that officials would not give him his share of subsidized bread for his restaurant, Egyptian media said.
The father of four was apparently angry about a government policy preventing restaurant owners from buying cheap subsidized bread to resell to their patrons, the AP reported. He asked policemen at the parliament building if he could meet Speaker Fathi Sorour and was told no.
At that, Hamadah took a step back, took out a bottle of gasoline from his pocket, poured it over himself and lit a match.
Subsidized loaves of typical Egyptian flat bread sell for about 1 U.S. cent apiece, but sell for five times that much to restaurant owners, the AP reported.
A man set himself on fire in front of the state's presidential palace in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, in what appeared to be another copycat self-immolation, police said.
Yacoub Ould Dahoud, 40, a company director and member of a wealthy family, was upset about alleged government mistreatment of his tribe, Reuters reported.
Dahoud doused himself with gasoline while sitting in his locked car in front of the presidential palace and set himself on fire. He was rescued by security forces and bystanders who broke open his car windows. He was taken to the hospital with burns.
The recent string of self-immolations follow the death 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.
Bouazizi later died in a hospital near Tunis. His act inspired thousands of other well-educated young people in Tunisia to begin a series of mass protests that caused Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia last week.