Yemen's opposition has repeatedly drawn tens of thousands to the streets to protest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three decades of autocratic rule in recent weeks, but by noon the protesters quietly vanish. Many head straight to the souk, or market, to buy bags of khat, the stimulant leaf that over half of Yemen's 23 million people chew daily. Some activists maintain, however, that khat serves as a social lubricant that helps fuel the opposition movement.
"Sure we use Facebook like kids in other countries, but a lot of the protests that were organized, students planned at khat sessions. Khat has a positive role in political mobilization," said Fakhr al-Azb, a 23-year old university student.
Khat, Yemen's top cash crop, is assailed for sucking dry dwindling water resources, and dominating land that could be used to grow food or export crops. Saleh launched a campaign against the leaf a decade ago, but Yemenis still spend millions of dollars a day on it. (Ha'aretz, Feb. 10)
Photo by Eesti