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Yemen Prepares for Another 'No Qat Day'

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If you are on Twitter, you may already know that April 12 won't be just another ordinary Thursday in Yemen. Indeed, preparations are under way for yet another "No Qat Day" following the hype which a similar social media-fuelled attempt generated last January.

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(One of the campaign's posters, the Arabic reads: The beginning of the change, government bodies without Qat)

Qat is a flowering plant which is found in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula; despite it being classified by the World Health Organization as a drug of abuse that could produce mild to moderate psychological dependence; Qat-chewing (or "Takhzeen" as it is known in Arabic) is considered a national pastime in Yemen as more than half of the adult male population and one-fourth of the adult female population consume it regularly, according to a 2011 study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The estimate is considered rather conservative as others believe that the percentage reaches 90 percent among adult men.

(Yemen's Qat Economy, a recent BBC reportage which claims usage is at 90 percent among men)

In fact, Qat is such a fixture in the daily life of Yemenis that it over-threw former Prime Minister Mohsin Al-Aini who was serving under former President Abdul Rahman Al-Eryani at the time. Al-Aini lost his position within 3 months when he sought to forbid chewing it by public servants during working hours and tried to ban its cultivation on lands run by state-controlled religious trusts.

Today, 40 years later, a relative of this former President of Yemen is trying her hand at putting end to this habit which is according to IFPRI is also chewing into the country's strategic agricultural water supply. According to the 2011 study, Qat production uses up to 40-50 percent of it while not contributing much to the nation's food security.

As for the person behind the "No Qat" campaigns; her name is Hind Al-Eryani, however, she is better known among "tweeps" by her Twitter handle of @Dory_Eryani; she is renowned for her efforts alongside other prominent Yemeni bloggers during the 2011 Arab Spring which brought an end to the 22-year-reign of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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(Blogger and online activist Hend Al-Eryani)

In particular, she contributed significantly to the famous #ShameOnReuters campaign; the hash-tag which exposed that Reuters was using a stringer by Mohammad Sudam; who also happened to be working as a translator for President Saleh. Following the campaign, the news agency decided to cut-off its ties with Sudam.

As for #NoQatApril12 Al-Eryani describes it as a continuation of previous efforts and an attempt to have practical steps on the ground by calling for the ban of Qat-chewing in government offices.

Al-Eryani says that this time around; she has the backing of both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information; hence her campaign will be supported with media coverage and in-school awareness activities.

The campaign has a dedicated Facebook page which could be followed here.