The increasing and developing styles of beggars in Yemeni cities [Archives:2006/1002/Reportage]

November 27 2006

Mahmoud Al-Harazi
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Beggars can be seen flowing into cities around Yemen. Such cities appear to be occupied by these beggars, who walk the streets passing every business and amid the city's endless rounds of traffic on crowded streets. Various types of beggars have become numerous and doubled in Yemen's cities, most noticeably during special months of the year.

Nowadays, begging has taken various organized methods and styles to the extent of organized professionalism. Beggars often do so by reading the Qur'an in public places or using girls to beg in an effort to arouse greater sympathy. Additionally, beggars sometimes present documents signed by a judge or an area leader attesting that they need the money.

One neighborhood leader confirmed that such people suffer poverty. Some women use children to attract sympathizers in public places by carrying one or more sometimes visibly impaired children. Some beggars also have been observed using a blood bag to show that they left the hospital because they couldn't pay expensive hospital costs.” Shopkeeper Mohammed Abu Rijal says beggars of both genders sit near mosque doors before and after each prayer time.

A Sana'a University study found that begging increased 40 percent in Sana'a during Ramadan, whereas approximately 3 percent of beggars in Yemen are employees forced to take unpaid leave from their jobs.

Some studies also estimate that Yemen has more than 1.2 million beggars, while other researchers confirm that the nation's high begging rate is increasing steadily due to continually deteriorating living allocations for the majority of disadvantaged citizens, as well as the widespread problems of poverty unemployment, illiteracy.

Some countries are famous for a particular characteristic, such as Algeria, the nation of a million martyrs, or Mauritania, the nation of a million poets. Likewise, Yemen can be considered the nation of a million beggars.

For some, begging has become a career and an easy path to wealth. “It's not surprising to hear of a beggar instituting legal proceedings against a bankrupt national bank before the Sana'a commercial court, claiming something like YR 6 million from the bank,” Maisa Shuja'a Adeen says.

Researchers have classified today's beggars into two types: the first do so because of poverty, inability to work or lack of adequate sources of income. Thirty-year-old Ammar Abdullah Omar, who has been disabled since birth, is an example.

“We're six brothers who beg in Sana'a because we receive just YR 1,000 from the Ministry of Social Affairs, which isn't enough for us,” he explains, “This is my big brother and you can see that he can't move.” Originally from Hajjah governorate, younger brother Mohammed, 15, notes that they now live in Sana'a.

Mohammed Saleh Al-Nehmi of Taiz has been begging in Sana'a for more than four years. “My parents died two years ago. I don't receive any aid from the Ministry of Social Affairs,” he adds. However, a generous man has given him a room to sleep in while his meals come from any restaurant.

The second type involves seasonal begging, which is a new phenomenon appearing among Yemen's middle class. Some middle class citizens beg seasonally and then gradually disappear. Yemen's financial situation has deteriorated in recent years due to low income levels and devaluation of the local currency.

Sa'adia Hamoud sometimes begs with two of her daughters. “I beg when I don't have money to pay the rent. My husband is a military soldier in the army, but he never sends us any money, I don't want to ask people for money, but what can I do and how can I feed my children when the house rent is YR 10,000 per month?”

Many of those seasonally begging seek money to pay electric bills or treat sick patients. Among Yemeni beggars are those who do so upon request of the head of the family – the father or husband. “Some husbands force their wives to beg to cover the family's needs, but often to cover his personal needs or his fun day, which involves abusing qat or alcoholism,” Sana'a University sociology professor Abdul Rahman Al-Khatib notes.

A nationwide government project will be implemented on a group of beggars to study their situations and their motives for begging. Undoubtedly, there are many poor people who obtain money by begging, but don't renounce the profession because it's fun, often doing it because they've become accustomed to it, even though they no longer need the money. How can they renounce the profession when they collect a lot of money?

There's a close link between where cars stop and where beggars collect money, as well as between banks and beggars, who may go so far as to take legal action against the financial institution. An additional connection exists between apartment buildings and beggars, who seek only YR 5 from each person, working hard to raise YR 5,000 to pay their rent. There's also a close connection between beggars and rounds of traffic, public squares, streets and shops.

Are these beggars hard workers, standing on the street – rain or shine – and in various climatic conditions, cruising the streets' length and breadth, weaving between pedestrians and cars, asking this and that, often troubling people?

Sheikh Taha, imam of Zahra Mosque, describes begging as a bad habit, especially in mosques, because it bothers those who are praying and has given Yemen a bad reputation abroad. “It's immoral and ignorant of religion, especially in the mosques. We tried to prevent begging in mosques, but many people criticized us, saying we don't have to prevent them. However, we no longer know whether the beggar is honest or a liar,” he explained.

According to Taha, begging has become a trade behind which are invisible hands teaching others how to beg; therefore, “I ask the Ministry of Social Affairs to put an end to this phenomenon, especially in mosques,” the sheikh concluded.