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Yemen: January 12, a Day Without Qat

This post is part of our special coverage Yemen Protests 2011.

Qat is a green leafy plant containing an amphetamine-like stimulant, classified by the World Health Organization as a drug of abuse. It is chewed by the majority of Yemeni men and women for hours, almost daily. Sadly sometimes even children chew it. It is an addictive social habit and a rather expensive one considering that 45 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

As I point out in my blog:

Qat has become an epidemic in every Yemeni household and has detrimental effects on Yemen's agriculture, economy, health and society. Massive time and resources are wasted to chewing this cursed plant, paralyzing Yemenis to think or work towards building Yemen.

This video posted on YouTube by FeatureStoryNews1 shows the role of Qat in Yemeni lives and it's damaging impact:

The revolution of change which has been raging for 11 months against the 33 year political rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh and his regime, spreading to fight corruption in the governmental and public institutions, has now also spread to society in an attempt to fight Qat.

A social media campaign on Facebook and on Twitter, which was started by Hind Aleryani, a Yemeni activist who lives in Lebanon, aims to make January 12, 2012, a day without Qat in Yemen. The initiative was widely welcomed worldwide and in Yemen by many Yemenis on Twitter and Facebook, who joined and promoted the campaign, including Noble Peace Prize Laureate and Yemen's leading activist, Tawakkol Karman who used the campaign logo as her personal profile photo on Facebook and tweeted a link to her Facebook page supporting the campaign.

@Dilmunite posted a well written and researched article about Qat on Bikya Misr.

The campaign was immediately endorsed by Yemeni activists, bloggers, journalists, other Yemeni Facebook pages, including this Facebook page called “Yemen without Qat,” [ar] which had been set up since June calling for an end to Qat consumption. Yemeni TV news channel Suhail, online news source Almasdaronline, as well many in Yemen, including the youth in Freedom Square in Taiz and Change Square in Sanaa, also supported the campaign.

Activist SadekMaktary, who is based in Taiz, and one of the campaign organizers, along with Ammar Mojalli, uploaded on his YouTube channel a video he made documenting people's testimonies in support of the campaign:

This photo taken and posted on Facebook by Jalal al-Samei shows the youth in Change Square carrying posters printed and distributed by CCYRC (Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change), who also endorsed the campaign:

Youth in Change Square in Sanaa endorse the No Qat campaign

Youth in Sanaa's change square endorse the #NoQatJan12 campaign

@brrhom, who lives in Sanaa, noticed the willingness for people to change after the revolution and tweeted saying:

Yemenis willingly incredibly interact with #NoQatJan12 campaign. Indeed, everything changed since the revolution started

And this is a Storify collection I made of Twitter reactions to Qat and to the event.

Journalist @nelsherif wrote describing some of the activities planned for today:

Yemenis organize “a day without khat” to fight corruption “>http://bit.ly/w6rPEb #in #noqatjan12 #yemen

@WigdanGuneid, who lives in the US, designed the logo of the campaign:

This is her poster, which reads [ar]: “I am a Yemeni, who wants change and will not chew Qat on January 12″:

#NoQatJan12 campaign logo

Her proud father and prominent activist @alguneid tweeted:

Our arts album by @WigdanGuneid 4 #NoQat12Jan is building up p.twimg.com/Aicpf56CAAAmdqp.twimg.com/AiWelVVCMAAHmn…

@FozYaya designed another poster which he tweeted:

#NOQatJan12 pic.twitter.com/zYM5CbOX

This is his poster:

Say No to Qat by Fawzi Yahya

@FozYaya also made a video which he posted on his YouTube channel showing how Yemenis were capable of change and calling on them to stop chewing for one day, the 12th of January:

@ameerah1yemenia, who lives in the US, tweeted her support:

#SupportYemen #NoQatJan12 #No2Corruption #Yemen

Doctor and activist @ichamza sarcastically tweeted:

Dont chew qat for one day! the mouth & Throat cancers can wait! #Yemen #NoQatJan12

He added:

I dont think Qat is the worst issue in #Yemen! but believe it is not making anything any better! & wastes resources #NoQat12Jan

@Afrahnasser, Yemen's leading blogger, currently residing in Sweden tweeted how time was wasted by Qat:

An average citizen in Yemen wastes 8 hrs in searching money for qat, another 8 hrs in chewing qat & the rest 8 hrs in sleeping @NoonArabia

She pointed also how it is a hindrance to development:

People of #Yemen have the greatest potential to become one of the most developed countries but qat is 1 of the obstacles :( #NoQatJan12

@Samwaddah, an activist living in Canada, also made a video which he posted on his YouTube channel highlighting a very dangerous issue, the habit of Qat being passed to children, which many parents in Yemen seemingly ignore or are unaware of. This is the video:

The campaign was a collaborative effort of many people tapping on keyboards, behind screens, on who deeply care about Yemen's well being, transcending to people in the streets of Yemen who made it a reality. It is also one amongst many steps in a challenging mission to eliminate Qat in Yemen.

As @Ghanem_M tweeted:

#noqatjan12 campaign is a first step to cure a nation from a bad addiction #yemen

@ArabsUnited, who lives in the UK, added:

#NoQatJan12 is about educating & opening the road to eliminating a destructive habit which is also a waste of resources – Slowly but surely..

And @SummerNasser a young Yemeni activist based in the US, noted:

We must find an alternative in #Yemen for those who chew and/or sell the plant. This campaign is to basically “test the water” #NoQatJan12

Ultimately, it is the people in Yemen and what they choose to day on this day, and onwards, which will determine the success of this campaign.

And as I concluded in my blog:

Hopefully the determined people of Yemen, the second most armed nation in the world, who amazed everyone with their peaceful Revolution, went on foot on an amazingly long 264 km Life March, and who are currently widely uprising against corruption, will make the right choices and take the gradual and necessary steps to eliminate this epidemic form Yemeni society.

George Bernard Shaw said “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

This post is part of our special coverage Yemen Protests 2011.

Thumbnail and featured image shows Qat seller in a market in Yemen. Image by Saleh Maglam, copyright Demotix (29/11/2011).

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