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By Peer Gatter, ForeignPolicy.com, Feb. 18, 2013 (with Slideshow)
For Imam Yahya, one of the last kings of Yemen, qat was a delight, something to be praised in his poems. For his adversary, the revolutionary Mohammed al-Zubayri, the plant was "the devil in the shape of a tree."
That hardy tree -- famed among farmers for its drought resistance and whose leaves, when chewed, act as a psychoactive stimulant -- is today an integral part of Yemeni life. On average, 72 percent of Yemeni men chew the bitter leaves of the qat plant. The qat sector provides employment for one in every seven working Yemenis. The income qat provides allows many to remain in their rural hometowns instead of drifting into the cities to seek work. In some highland districts, over 90 percent of farmers are involved in qat agriculture.
Social life in Yemen revolves around qat. It is an accepted habit across all strata of society [....]
Peer Gatter is a political scientist and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies scholar who served as an advisor to Yemen's Ministry of Planning and Water during the 2000s for the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank. In 2002, he organized Yemen's "First National Conference on Qat." He is the author of Politics of Qat -- The Role of a Drug in Ruling Yemen.