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Yemen's soporific revolution brews

world Updated: Feb 12, 2011 02:08 IST
The Washington Post

After Friday prayers, about 25 protesters stood outside Sanaa University chanting for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign. As the clock ticked toward 1:30pm, one by one, they left, as did a small group of people watching them.

"They've gone to chew khat," Shihab Sharabi, 21, one of the protesters.

Khat, a leafy narcotic, is consumed by nearly every man here. Add that to the many reasons that Yemen's protest movement has yet to gain the same momentum as the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, say many Yemenis.

For the past three weeks, protests have rocked this impoverished state. Some were massive; others were tiny. But one thing has remained constant: Most of the protests ended before 2pm. That's when many Yemenis enter khat-chewing sessions.

"In Yemen, chewing khat is like drinking water," said Samir al-Sami, an aid worker. "We can't live without it."

Khalid al-Hamri, 22, a student, said it would be pointless to protest in the afternoon. "In the morning, all the government officials are in their offices. They will hear our protests," he said. "In the afternoon, nobody will listen to us because everybody is chewing khat."

Back at the university, the protesters sat on the sidewalk, clutching Yemeni flags. Sharabi vowed that if Saleh didn't step down, they would protest all day, until midnight. "We will bring our khat here and make a revolution," he said, as another protester walked toward the khat stores.

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