Activists struggle to ban qat chewing in public facilities

Published on 16 April 2012 in Report
Sadeq Al-Wesabi (author), Nadia Haddash (author)

Sadeq Al-Wesabi


Nadia Haddash

Yemenis react positively to the campaign. Even those who chew qat took part.

Yemenis react positively to the campaign. Even those who chew qat took part.

A new campaign aiming at banning qat chewing  from public facilities has drawn the attention of thousands of employees in several governmental facilities in Sana'a, Ta'iz, Aden, Ibb and Hodeida governorates.

"The beginning of change… public facilities without qat" is the title of the new campaign which aims to urge employees in these facilities to quit chewing qat.

Employees in the Ministries of Information, Education, Electricity and Energy, Health and Agriculture have reacted positively to the campaign. Moreover, employees from police centers, post offices, hospitals and other facilities were very enthusiastic about the campaign.

Hind Aleryani, a prominent blogger and political activist, was behind the campaign that was met with the appreciation of many.

Aleryani is renowned for her effective contribution to fighting qat. Although she lives in Beirut, she was able to convey her message to many thousands of Yemenis.

Hind Aleryani

Hind Aleryani

Aleryani has cleverly exploited social media to change certain negative attitudes that many Yemenis hold.

Regarding the fight against qat, she gradually convinced Yemenis to refrain from chewing it. She also mobilized youth activists, cartoonists and media people to promote the campaign among broad layers of Yemenis.

Thousands of campaign posters have been distributed in streets and government-run facilities. However, publicity for the campaign has also reached private facilities.

Aleryani stressed the importance of pushing the government to pass the anti-qat bill that was written by one of the campaign members, lawyer Omar Al-Himyari.

Osama Ayash, a youth activist from Hodeida governorate, indicated that many Yemenis have participated effectively in the campaign, adding that even those who chew qat actively took part in the campaign.

"We decided to include those who chew qat in order to urge them to be pro-active with the campaign," he said.

Ayash pointed out that Hodeida's National Foundation for Fighting Cancer, in collaboration with Yemen Youth Initiative, have formed a team of male and female youths who visit government facilities and public schools to distribute brochures and hold symposiums on the campaign.

"It was a perfect step towards progress for the Yemeni youth. This campaign aims to at least partially solve the problem," said Abdul-Salam Al-Azazi, one of the campaign members.

Al-Azazi added that prohibiting qat in government facilities would lead to the next step.

"We plan to stop qat chewing among Yemenis gradually, not only in the government facilities, but in all public places," he explained.

According to Al-Azazi, most of the pervious qat campaigns over the last few years have focused on preventing qat chewing immediately, without reviewing the best ways to go about it beforehand.

Al-Azazi pointed out that it's impossible to prevent Yemenis from chewing qat through hasty campaigns, saying, "The outcomes of such campaigns were nothing."

"We worked so hard in 5 groups, with every group going to two government centers at least," said Heba Ahmed Saeed, a member of the organization Ajyaal in Ta'iz, referring to the fact that groups of the activists campaigned at individual ministries.

The members of the campaign in Ta'iz have targeted several facilities such as Al-Jamhoori Hospital, the Civil Status Authority, the Statistics and Information Center, the Ministry of Electricity, and Ta'iz University. They've distributed posters and raised awareness about the campaign among employees at these facilities.

"Most of the employees in Ta'iz welcomed the idea and support us," Saeed said. "We will never give up until we achieve the goals of our campaign and ban chewing qat in government facilities. This is just the beginning."

A 4O-year-old Waddah Al-Sayani, who sells qat in the market on Baghdad Street in Sana'a, was sitting below one of the campaign's posters.

Employees from different governorates raise awareness around the new anti-qat campaign.

Employees from different governorates raise awareness around the new anti-qat campaign.

Speaking to the Yemen Times, Al-Sayani played down the importance of the campaign and ruled out the idea that Yemenis will quit chewing qat.

"This green plant will never be affected by anything and it will remain in the Yemeni blood," he said confidently, while selling his qat.

Anti-qat activists have established a series of events which strive to bring together prominent public figures and raise awareness about the campaign.

On Thursday, the final concert for the campaign was held in the Cultural Center in Sana'a. However, the members of the campaign were disappointed, as Yemeni officials didn't attend the concert as promised, while the Turkish ambassador attended the concert and praised the campaign.