The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged qat
Yemen: Quitting Qat
Ahmed Bilal

Ahmed Bilal

Yemen has recently become the focus of increased media attention as a result of the proxy war there being fought between the US, Saudi Arabia, the government of Yemen and multiple tribal and Islamist insurrections. But in an environmentally marginal country such as Yemen, the popularity of the narcotic qat ranks high among the country’s difficulties. Heavy qat use not only consumes its users’ teeth and income, but also constitutes the lion’s share of Yemeni’s agricultural water usage. This is a serious problem in a country where water poverty is endemic and population growth is high: “[a]lmost 45% of all water in Yemen is used to cultivate a plant that feeds no one, in a country where almost half of the population is food insecure,” notes The Guardian. Demand for water is expected to exceed supply by the early 2020s, and due to Yemen’s poverty and geography, building desalinization plants is impractical.[1]

Local activists have frequently targeted the widespread use of qat, but their impact has been limited. Qat is not only exceedingly popular, but “one in every seven working Yemeni is employed in producing and distributing qat”. Its economic importance to both poor and wealthy, and the social status that chewing it confers on users, have made official attempts to limit its consumption extremely unpopular in the past. Government officials in the hinterlands are also uprooting qat trees and promoting cultivation of other cash crops.

In the past few years, however, grassroots energies have been revitalized, with activists focusing on organizing “qat-free” events, media campaigns and getting merchants to stop selling the leaf.

We interviewed Hind Aleryani, who is attempting to expand her weekly silent protests and other efforts to persuade users, farmers and vendors to abandon the crop in favor of other ones:

What would the exact process be in replacing qat with other crops, such as coffee and olives?

In the district of Haraz , they are replacing qat with coffee and almonds, the northern [region] of Haraz will be qat-free in three months. There is a firm that is buying the almond and selling it outside Yemen. The farmers there said that they are gaining more money now, they plant almond. There is a law that has a long-term strategy (to be implemented over the next 20 years) that would give the farmers alternative crops and uproot 10% of all qat trees [annually]. Besides banning the chemicals farmers are applying to qat trees to make it grow the whole year (the trees must be specially treated to produce leaves all year round) and protesting for bans on qat use by government officials, many of whom use it during work hours.

Does qat present an obstruction to Yemeni women entering the labor force?

Yes. And not only that, but [addicted] mothers are not taking care of their kids; they spend the morning sleeping and wake up in the noon because they are chewing qat the whole night and suffer insomnia from it. Women meet together to chew qat just as the men do. Kids are either in the streets or – increasingly – chewing leaves with a parent. It’s a sad reality.

Because the drug is a staple of social life, and has become a part of professional life too, do people risk being socially excluded and their own career advancement if they don’t use the drug?

Yes. We have tried bringing those who’ve quit it together and introducing them to others who don’t chew. We will try to work with the cafés in Yemen and entertainment venues to gather people and give them discounts if they do not chew the leaves at these establishments.

How does qat affect overall health in the country, particularly dental health?

The average adult eating three meals a day chews food for approximately one and half hours of that day. In Yemen, though, many qat users chew on the leaves for seven hours a day! This has detrimental effects on the jaw and the teeth, not including the fact that the processing chemicals in qat can cause gum and esophageal cancers. I made an appointment with a dentist in Yemen who is going to show me some of his worst cases and we will make a video about it [to raise awareness].

How would your campaign curve consumer demand?

So far we are working firstly on awareness (visiting schools and hosting press conferences), and we hold a silent protest every week at a qat shops for awareness. Secondly, we are working on giving alternatives to the farmers who want to uproot qat trees. And we are also giving the youth alternatives to sitting around and chewing. We are changing the society by doing qat-free weddings, which we believe is developing into a trend. Every other day I see someone writing on Facebook that he will quit qat, which makes me very happy. Some of them are well-known writers, politicians or people who work in media.

As qat requires a certain level of freshness, qat growers must be in Yemen and the capital it generates therefore stays in the country. Can you describe how the capital fits in to the Yemeni economy, and who benefits most from the industry?

Those who benefit most from qat are actually VIP figures in Yemen: tribal leaders, and MPs (who are also tribes leaders). In 1972 Prime Minister Mohsin Al-Aini thought about uprooting qat trees en masse, and this was the reason he had to step down!

How much of household income is spent on qat? How does this affect overall nutritional consumption in Yemeni households?

Yemenis on average are spending US$4 on qat daily [when the average weekly income is US$14]. Addicts prefer buying qat to spending money on buying food or clothes or taking their kids to school. Many end up borrowing money to fund their habit. At one qat vendor’s stall, people were leaving their cell phones as collateral because they couldn’t afford to pay for their daily purchases.

  1. Most Yemenis must make do with 100–140 m^3 of water per annum, or less than 10% of the per capita average enjoyed by their neighbors.  ↩

InterviewsGuestyemen, qat, drugs
Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai. / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas. / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

Links for 08.13.09 to 08.14.09
✪ » Hashish in the Muslim World | Interesting post quoting medieval scholar's research into the spread of hashish in the Arab world in the 12th and 13th century, and some examination of Ibn Taymiyya's verdict that smoking hash is a worse sin than drinking wine, which is an unusual interpretation today (indeed many will say that smoking hash is not forbidden at all, although that is a rather convenient interpretation!)
✪ The Case of Reda Helal and the Alienation of the Journalist Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Wow: "Asharq Al-Awsat recently published a report on Reda Helal, quoting some of his family members who learnt, via private means, that Reda was still alive and being held at an Alexandrian prison. However, no official comment has been made on this new piece of information." But most of the article is about the predicament of Arab journalists; I like this: "The journalist has two options; to have the skill of writing without really saying anything in particular, or to have the courage to reveal his true thoughts and positions regardless of the harm this might inflict upon him or, in some cases, the benefit he might gain; in other words, to accept responsibility for his words and ideologies. But very few are willing to do this."
✪ Asharq Al-Awsat Investigates: Tackling Yemen's Qat Epidemic Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Interesting and quite thorough article on the drug Qat, which a large number of Yemenis chew on a daily basis.
✪ Palestinians get their own Google domain | Today the internet, tomorrow the land!
✪ Bernard Lewis was my guide… (Then I went to the Middle East) | Must-read letter by a student who was a neocon until... he went to the Middle East.
✪ Faith and desire in Albert Square | Khaled Diab |Comment is free | About gay Muslims on Eastenders - the British soap opera.
Links for 07.18.09 to 07.20.09
Gambling with peace: how US bingo dollars are funding Israeli settlements | World news | The Guardian | More Moskowitz. There should be an international financial blockade against any institution involved in the settlements.
'U.S. tells Israel to halt East Jerusalem building' - Haaretz - Israel News | More on Irving Moskowitz's settlement plans.
Asma Al Assad: Syria's First Lady And All-Natural Beauty (SLIDESHOW) | HuffPo celebrates the beauty of Asma al-Assad. Never mind her hubby being a dictator and all...
WaPo bows cravenly to pro-Israel lobby | WaPo publishes inaccurate "correction" on Gilo settlement.
De “Freej” à “Hamdoon” : le dessin cartonne aux Emirats | On the spread of homegrown cartoon characters in the UAE.
French agents kidnapped in Somalia | Security trainers were posing as journalists and staying at journalists' hotel — can't say I feel any sympathy for them.
Publier ici votre bilan des dix de règne - Comme une bouteille jetée à la mer! | Larbi, one of the best Moroccan bloggers, is inviting readers to send in their assessment of the first 10 years of Muhammad VI's reign.
Breaking the silence | Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Cementing the rift via dialogue | Update on Egypt-brokered Palestinian reconciliation talks after Ramallah meeting, takes the position that Fatah is sabotaging talks for electoral purposes. But does not acknowledge Egypt's acquiescence in this plan.
The freegans' creed: waste not, want not | Environment | The Observer | Article on freeganism, i.e. eating free food that's been thrown away. Clearly only possible as a lifestyle in the first world.
Somaliland's addict economy | GlobalPost | About Qat (also spelled Khat, the drug) in Somaliland.
EGYPT: Poet accused of insulting Mubarak awaits final verdict | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | Ridiculous.
OpenStreetMap | Not bad alternative to Google Maps. For Cairo not bad, but Google is more detailed and in Arabic. Still, good effort that might improve, and does not lock us in to the G-Man.
Revisiting Obama's Riyadh meeting | The Cable | So the idea that Obama came out empty-handed out of his pre-Cairo Speech meeting with Saudi King Abdullah is gaining ground. But it is ridiculous to imagine that Abdullah would pre-emptively agree to concessions before the Israelis have made even a single concession.
Egyptian chronicles: Ahmed Rushdie-Barely-Speaks For The First Time | Very interesting post on former Egyptian minister of interior Ahmed Rushdie, described here as the only minister of the Mubarak era to have resigned and the only interior minister who was respected. (I don't know how true this is, but it's interesting!)
International Crisis Group - 152 Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC | New ICG report on Sudan warns of laying off pressure on Khartoum over Darfur as focus shifts to the south and the CPA again. Among key recommendations to the ruling party is that Bashir should step down as soon as possible.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat | Sharq al-Awsat interview, mostly on Syria. The Obama administration sure loves Saudi media.
Palestinians aim for massive pastry record Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | I'm all for building the world's largest ball of twine or baking the biggest kunafa, but the reporting on this is over the top.
Taboo Topics on Contemporary Foreign Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt | Excellent post on the Ten Commandments of foreign policy wonks. You could add plenty more, but I would add (as far as Egypt is concerned) "Thou shall greet yesterday's oppressor as today's reformer, or vice versa if appropriate." Walt makes so many good points it's hard to choose a favorite, although #9 is up there.