Drugged nations don’t progress [Archives:2004/792/Viewpoint]

November 22 2004

It is a common reality that a small minority of the country's population feels itself different, particularly during vacations such as the Eid holiday that has just past. This minority are those people who don't chew qat.
Being one of them, and as a fierce fighter against the habit of chewing qat, it upsets me to see millions of hours spent on chewing a plant that has no meaning whatsoever. Yet I end up different.
It is true that no one can deny the fact that qat is negative in all aspects, no matter which angle you look at it. Its hazards are related to heath, the economy and the society as a whole. But it is also at the same time, a decisive differentiator between chewers and non-chewers.
Almost every day, while working in the afternoons in my office, I look into the street from my window and find people lying on the side walk and chewing qat and wonder: How can they waste so much time doing nothing? Similarly, when I was in Aden a few days ago, I noticed homeless men chewing qat on the sidewalks, and at night, simply covering their weak bodies with a peace of thick paper and sleeping on the spot.
Then when I try to convey my frustration and anger, and in fact shock, to the level of carelessness that those people exhibit when facing their daily challenges in raising and educating children, or making ends meet at the end of the day, I receive the same old response, “Just chew a few leaves and you'll get over it!”
I believe that the majority of the population of Yemen is under the spell of this evil plant that continues to expand its territory on the expense of our natural water resources, our land, our time, and the future of our country.
On the other hand, one can also understand why the situation is not changing as those in the power centers are among the most addicted qat chewers, who may even have vast farms that generate millions of rials every day from crops.
But why should I and thousands of other Yemenis suffer as a result of the pleasure of the majority of the people? This is a legitimate question that is rarely raised.
When visitors come to my newspaper's premises and ask 'Where is your mafraj?' and I tell them that I don't have any such room, and in fact chewing qat is prohibited strictly in the compound, I see a look of surprise on their faces.
It is a fact that the Yemen Times is the only newspaper that doesn't have a room dedicated for qat chews, and some see this as a negative. While I see it as a mere correspondence to the vision of the newspaper and its founder Professor Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, who was a tough challenger to the wealthy qat farmers who have expressed dissatisfaction with his efforts to help curb this negative phenomenon.
Nevertheless, I believe that international and local civil society organizations should help us come to understand the implications of the continuation of growing and chewing qat.
With such an increasing concern over the depleted underground water, and the increasing crime and poverty rates throughout the country, and of course, the increasing level of unemployment, I believe that there will be a crossroads that we will arrive to.
It is a crossroads to either becoming a normal nation that builds and prospers and takes advantage of the most valuable thing on earth, i.e., time. Or become a nation that drifts into tragedy and chaos due to the uncontrollable drug that has become the resort of the majority of the population to forget their problems and miseries.
It remains to be seen where Yemen is heading to, because a drugged nation will never prosper!