White or Red? What’s Your Poison? [Archives:1998/28/Focus]

July 13 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!
Dr. Salah Haddash,
Ph.D. Law (France)
In this Muslim land of ours, alcohol is supposed to be off limits. Yet, large quantities of alcohol are brought into the country officially – supposedly for the consumption of foreigners. But more importantly, larger quantities are smuggled into Yemen through coastal towns, and is sold ‘secretly’ all over the place. A bottle of hard liquor fetches about YR 2,000-YR2,500. There are rumors that there are bottling factories and moonshiners in Djibouti or on off-shore ships or floating platforms.
Alcohol is also distilled locally by using unhealthy and unhygienic methods. Limited-income people usually consume such low-quality alcohol.
There used to be a brewery in Aden with a franchise from the former Czechoslovakia to produce the infamous “Seera” beer. The factory was closed down after the 1994 war.
Yemeni drinkers, few as they are, have rather funny names of various alcohol brands. “Abu khatwa” (one taking a step) or “Hanna almashi” for the famous Johnny W…. Or they use the alcoholic drinks’ respective colors to refer to them: white, red, etc.
Locally made alcohol or “baladi” (literally means ‘my country’ but used home-made or home-grown) is translated literally into “my country” (said in English by the more educated drinkers).
Alcohol & Yemeni Law
Yemeni Penal Law No. 12 of 1994 defines alcohol as “any inebriating substance of any kind, irrespective of the amount required to induce a state of drunkenness.” (Article 282)
Article 283 of this law stipulates a punishment of 80 lashes for any sane, adult Muslim who drinks alcohol. If the drinking of alcohol is done in a public place, then a year’s imprisonment is added to the flogging. As for non-Muslim drinkers, a prison sentence of not more six months is stipulated if the alcohol is consumed in a public place.
‘Now be careful, you hear!’
Any one who makes, sells, offers, proposes, facilitates the consumption of alcohol is punished with a prison sentence of not more than one year or a fine not exceeding YR 2,000. If the trading in alcohol is done in a public place, then a prison term of not more than 3 years or a fine not exceeding YR 6,000 are stipulated. In addition, of course, to closing down the place for not more than one year. (Article 285)
Alcohol Crimes in 1996
Statistics issued in the Statistical Year-Book (1997), published by the Ministry of Planning, show the following:
It can be seen that most alcohol consumption is concentrated in coastal areas: Aden, Hodeida, and Hadhramaut. It is easier to smuggle alcohol in these seaside places, especially with the coming of many tourists, both foreign and Yemeni.
Two of the above governorates were part of the former southern Yemen, where alcohol consumption was legal.
In tribal areas such as Mareb and Mahweet, cases of alcohol consumption are virtually non-existent. However, there were two cases of moonshining in Mareb, which indicates that there is some degree of alcohol consumption in these areas.
Alcohol & Social Customs
It is quite customary in Yemen that when a man asks for a girl’s hand in marriage, her family would almost certainly ask him whether he drinks alcohol or not. They go further by asking his friends and relatives if he drinks or not. So drinking alcohol means the difference between accepting and refusing the suitor.
This custom had declined in the southern governorates because consumption of alcohol was legalized during British colonial rule (1839-1967), and also later by the former socialist regime which ruled during 1967-1990.
In many instances, excessive alcohol consumption becomes the main cause for divorce and family break ups. It is enough for a wife to complain against her drinking husband to be granted a divorce by a court.
Alcohol & Qat
Qat is known as a stimulant at least during the early stages of the chewing. It causes, blood pressure to rise, heart beat to go faster, etc., leading the qat chewer to feel active and euphoric. A few hours later, however, the qat chewer starts to feel depressed, lethargic, and in a bad mood.
Since qat also somewhat weakens the sexual drive, some qat chewers wrongly believe that when qat and alcohol are combined, the sexual drive is strengthened.
There is no doubt that in every society there are people who do not adhere to the teachings of their religion. Yemen is no exception. There are very few Yemenis who drink alcohol.
It was found through observation that most of those Yemenis who do consume alcohol are people who had lived, studied, or traveled abroad. A large number of Yemeni students went to study in Arab and European countries. Some Arab countries, especially those with non-Muslim minorities, such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Jordan, even manufacture alcoholic drinks.
Alcohol in Yemen is usually consumed privately at home or among friends. After drinking alcohol, people do not usually go out or drive a car. In the evenings, but especially after 11 pm, policemen who man street intersections make it part of their search routine to smell drivers for alcohol. Alcohol consumers also do not dare to use public transportation because of the smell.
A policeman who smell alcohol on the breath of a person has enough evidence to detain the violator, at least for the night. The affair could also go to court, which is very damaging to the accused person’s reputation and social status.
Reasons for Rising Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumers in Yemen can be divided into the following categories:
– Some people are driven to drink through personal suffering, disappointments and frustrations in life. These are mostly people with limited income, and their numbers are likely to increase with life’s increasing hardships.
– Other people, especially the nouveau riche, drink because they want to emulate foreign culture and it is the trendy thing to do among this new class in Yemen.
– Young people also try to emulate what they see in the movies.
Methods of Smuggling
Alcohol is smuggled into Yemen is done by small ships and boats from countries in the Horn of Africa, notably Djibouti. It is taken on land to the major towns and cities such as Sanaa, Taiz, Aden, etc.
3-star and better hotels are licensed to sell alcohol to non-Yemenis only.
I contacted one former smuggler who revealed that he used to sell about two to four dozen bottles of hard liquor a night. An unscrupulous hotelier, on the other hand, would sell about 48 to 96 bottles a night to Yemeni consumers.
Smugglers and alcohol vendors only sell to people they know or to others through mutual acquaintances, never to a stranger.
Police raids are frequent, and alcohol-staching places are always on the look-out. Yemeni television displays from time to time the destruction of alcohol bottles in public, and the arrest of bootleggers.
Alcohol Addiction in Yemen
Consuming alcohol is bad for human health. General observations and hospital records in Yemen indicate there are no alcohol addicts in this country. Continuing prohibition on alcohol in Yemen, therefore, respects the tenets of Islam and protects people’s health.