No Qat Day provokes debate and action

Published on 16 January 2012 in Variety
Nadia Hadash (author)

Nadia Hadash


The very idea behind the January 12 “No Qat Day” has left a number of Yemenis feeling inspired, resonating with those who see qat chewing as a waste of time, money and water.

The campaign started as a tweet. Hind Al-Eryani found herself increasingly annoyed when hearing others talk about Yemeni people in general – and the country's youth in particular – as representing the world's foremost qat addicts.

What developed was an idea to start a simple campaign against qat. With the help of her followers on Twitter, Al-Eryani chose January 12, a Thursday, to put her idea into action.

“I didn't select January 12 for any specific reason. But it was a Thursday and, as we know, most young Yemenis prefer to hold qat sessions on Thursdays,” she said.

Her campaign received a strong response from enthusiastic youths on Twitter and she proceeded to open an “event page” on Facebook.

Only hours later, the Facebook campaign page had garnered a large number of people – more than 3,000 – in support of the idea.

The idea soon spread throughout a number of social networks. NGOs positioned against the practice of chewing qat, such as the Organization of Generations without Qat and Awsat Alshabaka, responded to the campaign as news.

It was at this point that Al-Eryani began to take her own idea more seriously. Arab intellectual Azmi Bishara and Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman were among the first supporters of the campaign. Both expressed their strong support for and belief in the campaign on their social networking pages.

Journalist Khaled Al-Hamadi wrote on the campaign's Facebook page that “this campaign proves that the new generation is able to make political and social changes.”

Today is “EID”

“We should be responsible enough to control ourselves and follow the right path. Improving and developing our country starts with such good ideas. I totally support the January 12 campaign – let Yemen be without Qat forever,” wrote Facebook user Abu Amjad.

Said another Facebook user, Basem Al-Shebani, “Although it's my special day, I promise to commit and not chew on Thursday.

Qat chewer Abdul-Aziz Al-Slami shared with others on Facebook how he planned to spend the day without qat.

“I’m going to a wedding on Thursday evening. I won't chew, but I will keep silent; otherwise, they will kick me out if they learn that I’m supporting the campaign,” said Al-Salami.

“He decided to show support and not chew qat, but someone brought him some high-quality qat. So now he's confused,” quipped Facebook user Salem Ayash.

Ahmed Qhurab, a sardonic Yemeni columnist, said on the Facebook page that he bets qat sellers will tremble in their markets after hearing news of “No Qat Day.”

Najah Al-Qadi commented via Twitter that “This day will be special for all Yemenis – supporters or not – because it recorded a new step towards Yemen without qat.

At the same time, other Yemeni social media users have responded negatively to the campaign.

A Facebook user named Zakaria Alrabe'a said, “I had a nightmare yesterday. It came when I thought of not chewing qat on Thursday.”

“I must chew qat in order to keep my head – if I don't chew on Thursday, I may lose my temper,” joked Ali Awidah on Facebook.

Yet other users questioned how else they could spend their time amid frequent power outages.

“Some friends and I will take on the challenge. I have no idea where we will spend our day since there is no electricity at home. We may move around until our feet get tired, but we are in,” wrote Marwan Al-Monajee.

Anti-qat activist Ahmed Al-Nakhotha suggested that qat chewers spend the day at Sana'a's Change Square and support each other in a shared effort to abstain.

The “No Qat Day” campaign was held in both Sana'a and Taiz.

Although the campaign has not made great success since supporters of the campaign do not exceed thousands of Yemenis, the impact that the 12 January idea left will remain in minds of every Yemeni dreaming to have country free of qat.