As the Leadership Starts War Against Qat, People Admit:  “We Want a Country Without Qat!” [Archives:1999/45/Reportage]

November 8 1999

Jamal Al-Awadhi
Yemen Times 
The President’s latest orders to ban chewing Qat while on duty filled many people with relief. They considered it a courageous step towards the elimination of this negative phenomenon which has had its regrettable impact on the national economy, as well as on the social standards. Yet, many of them still question the sincerity of its implementation. Personally, I think it will soon be ignored and neglected as many other orders that have proven to be difficult to implement on the ground. However, last week, the government surprised all again by its decision to extend working hours from 8 am to 3 pm and by making Thursday an official holiday. This will help accomplish a lot of work on time and at the same time will delay the times of chewing Qat which usually starts at 1 pm. Consequently, this will help chewers, especially people of the low income, get rid of this habit or at least minimize it. 
To make sure that these decisions are really implemented on the ground, the Yemen Times visited a number of military sites, state offices and sports and cultural clubs in Sana’a. During our visits, we found that the government orders were carried out in all the places we visited. Many people who used to chew Qat, were present at clubs to do some exercises. Outside one camp we noticed some military officers chewing Qat and all of them weren’t wearing the military uniform. When they went back to work, they threw it out. It is a good start to establish the country of law and order. 
During our visits we also talked to some people who expressed their feelings about the newly issued decisions as follows: 
Major Abdul Kafi Sharian 
” I am a coach at the Military Sport Union. We have a large hall equipped with many sport tools. One of the problems I face is the weakness of some of the soldiers training here. This is partially caused by chewing Qat. Many of them chew Qat in the afternoon and come to do some exercises after that. They used to chew Qat in the camp, particularly in the soldiers’ residence. However, after the President’s orders of banning Qat at work places, this phenomenon vanished. Carrying out the President’s orders was supervised by the Ministry of Defense which has imposed a punishment of 6 months imprisonment on violators. 
Chewers among the military officers found it very difficult to find an alternative. They found salvation in heading for training halls. Unfortunately, some of them go outside the camp in order to chew Qat. However, these have to come back to the camp with no traces of Qat. 
One of the good features of these orders is the fact that they restore the dignity of the military work as well as to the military uniform. It was a very tarnished image seeing military officers and soldiers in the Qat market in military uniform. Now soldiers are forbidden to buy Qat when they are wearing the military uniform. A number of overseers have been appointed to watch the implementation of these orders. In fact, they are very wise decisions. I am sure that Yemen will be better off without Qat,” 
Mohammed Al-Harazi, soldier. 
” I used to chew Qat because I usually feel bored in the afternoon. Whenever I saw my friends going to the Qat market, I accompanied them in order to spend time together. Fortunately, the President’s orders made me think of finding an alternative. So I thought of doing some exercises at the camp club and saving the money that I used to spend on Qat. Though I have been doing exercises for a short time, I feel well. I also found many of my friends, who I used to chew Qat with, present at the club, too.”
Mansour Al-Soraihi, first lieutenant 
“After the issuance of orders banning Qat during work hours, military officers, as well as soldiers began to look for an alternative. All of them agree that Qat causes many sorts of damage to health, society and economy. We used to buy Qat and chew it during working hours and at the workplace. But the strong orders of the President have stopped this. Many people thought that these orders would soon be forgotten, but directives to the military leaders were very strict that any person caught red-handed to be punished by imprisonment or even by firing from work. This has led military officers and soldiers to look for an alternative. Some of them go to the sport hall to do some exercises and others began to look for other work to keep themselves busy. Therefore the government should not stop at the issuance of these orders but it should also do its best to provide an alternative.”
Hamoud Al-Tauhary, second lieutenant 
“I used to spend almost all my salary on Qat. Due to the lack of an alternative, we used to spend our time in (maqials). But after chewing Qat was banned in camps we were compelled to try doing other things. So we have started doing some exercises at the club. I felt tired in the beginning but then I felt the opposite. I think these orders will help youth give up chewing”Yahia Al-Shihari, Secretary of the Al-Ahli Club Library. 
“Banning chewing Qat during the work hours and extending the work hours were very wise decisions. This step might help people reconsider the damage Qat causes to them. But the government should not stop at this stage, it is now obliged to provide the alternatives. For example, organizing language and computer training courses for officials in the afternoon. This, of course will reflect positively on their work quality. In fact, our economy is in dire need of such decisions. 
As far as the Qat growers are concerned, they can consider this decision as a warning to reduce the number of Qat trees and to start growing other kinds of vegetables and fruits. We, in the Al-Ahli Club have positively responded to the President’s orders by banning chewing Qat at the club’s halls. We have noticed that the exercise halls have began to crowd with young people who have on their turn decided to abandon Qat and look for some other things to do. 
Mohammed Ahmad Haidar, economic researcher 
One of the priorities of passing any decision on any development activity is the availability of a complete study on all dimensions of that decision in order to accomplish its aims and avoid any negative consequences. I don’t think that the Ministerial decision to extend the work hours which comes as complemantary to the President’s order to ban Qat while on duty is the best solution to the phenomenon of Qat chewing. This socially inherited phenomenon has been connected with deep rooted habits and traditions until it has become dominant and one of the main constituents of the backward social structure. It is very difficult to rid Yemen of this phenomenon. Therefore, these decisions are unable to present scientific and practical solutions to minimize the spread of it. 
Wiping out this phenomenon requires a national strategy based upon economic, social, cultural and health studies. This strategy should be made by all governmental and non-governmental organizations and people concerned, and it should be implemented on a phased basis in order to evaluate them one by one. 
To implement this strategy, the government should present new remedies for all the negative phenomena that hinder development. 
The government has to organize qat chewing in holidays and occasions. Mere thinking of the eradication of this phenomenon does not agree with the social reality for the following reasons: 
1- Many families depend on growing Qat for their living. This sector of people has to be compensated with a suitable alternative. 
2- Since most of Qat chewers are young people who form 50% of the whole population of the Republic, they should be provided with their needs and demands that satisfy them. 
Jameel Mohammed Ahmad, Chairman of Aden Radio Sector. 
Qat is considered to be an abnormal phenomenon which has no equivalent in other Arab countries. The President’s latest decision concerning Qat chewing is right and it could have been passed long ago had the circumstances been suitable. However, it needs to be backed up by all if it is to succeed because if people are dissatisfied with it, I think it will be impossible to implement on the ground. 
Fortunately, I can see some positive response from the people. These people need to be provided with alternatives. At this stage, all social and charitable organizations are asked to help these people, especially chewers, by providing them with satisfactory alternatives. Media is also supposed to raise the people’s awareness about health and economic problems resulted from Qat chewing. 
One of the greatest problems of Qat is its wide spread at the expense of other crops and the great amount of water it consumes for its growing. This, of course, affects the national economy. 
We, in the Aden Television and Radio Corporation, have banned Qat chewing or even carrying it at work. Many used to chew Qat at the Corporation’s studios which were always changed into maqials (long rooms where people gather in groups to chew Qat). This situation no longer exists. It seems as if people were awaiting such decisions. Many of them wanted to give up Qat chewing, but it seemed as if they needed encouragement to do so. However, the problem is not that easy to get rid of in a short time. Many alternatives should be made available. For example, public libraries, clubs, etc. 
Ahmad Thabit, Vice Chairman of The World Bank 
In fact, extending the work hours will help employees get rid of thinking about Qat. We, at the World Bank have banned Qat chewing, too. Some people were disappointed in the first week but gradually, they got used to it. 
As far as work times at banks working in Yemen are concerned, we will face a problem in contacting other World Banks for which Saturdays and Sundays are holidays if we implement the latest decision of making Thursday an official holiday. Representatives from banks working in Yemen met with Dr. Abdul Kareem Al-Iriani, head of the Cabinet, who positively responded to our problem and gave us the freedom to choose the time suitable for us. 
Abdulla Al-Kibsi, Assistant Secretary General of the Yemeni Olympic Committee 
The decision of extending the working hours passed by the government recently will cause some confusion at the beginning. People are not used to spending such a time at work. In my opinion, this will help people shake off the habit of chewing Qat at specific times. However, implementation of this decision should be overseen till people get used to it. I don’t chew Qat and I hope that its trees will be uprooted everywhere. 
Hassan Mohammed Abdul Hammeed, employee 
Banning Qat at work is a wise decision. It gives those desiring to give up Qat chewing a chance to start doing what they have been postponing for a long time. I hope that the latest decision to extend the working hours will help increase and improve productivity. I also hope that people will comply with this decision. I know that it will be difficult at the beginning, but I think it will yield its fruits in the long run. 
Mohammed Abdul Wali, advisor at the Ministry of Youths and Sports 
These decisions are very useful. I think that they have been passed after careful studies of its social, economic and cultural dimensions. Many people are very enthusiastic about these decisions. They look at them as a strong beginning by the government to carry out its reform programs. People have positively responded to these two decisions. Now they have a two-day holiday in which they can relax and enjoy their time with their families. Concerning banning Qat, sports clubs have banned Qat availability on their grounds.