U.S. lawmakers, convening a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the threat posed by al Qaeda in Yemen, found themselves focused on another problem stalking the impoverished Arab country: the mild drug qat, which permeates Yemeni society.
Rep. Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, launched the discussion of Yemen’s drug problem in his opening remarks, noting that qat was “a narcotic plant that produces feelings of euphoria and stimulation, but ultimately undermines individual initiative — sort of like being in Congress.”
Berman noted that many people chew qat regularly in Yemen — pushed close to the top of the U.S. security watchlist after the Christmas Day bombing attempt on a U.S. airliner by a Nigerian with Yemeni links – and that cultivation of the drug consumes about 40 percent of Yemen’s fast diminishing agricultural water supplies.
The focus on qat continued with Rep. Gary Ackerman, who mused that Yemen’s drug habit might be undercutting its readiness to sign on to a more forceful campaign against al Qaeda militants within its borders.
“These people spend the afternoon getting away from reality, getting high…it’s like, wow,” Ackerman said.