Cafe Culture arrives in Sanaa, as young Yemenis seek alternative to qat chewing.

Yemen is a country of contradictions, often in the news for the wrong reasons. It is a country of great beauty, where people are kind and hospitable but where poverty is also rampant and where political violence is part of everyday life. Yemen has also been effected by the Arab spring, and it saw thousands of its young people demonstrating for political change and reform. This led to the resignation of the long serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a deal brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council.

Political life in Yemen remains very unstable, with various armed groups claiming legitimacy and power. The economic problems facing the new government are daunting. Yet one thing is clear. Regardless of all the difficulties the young people of Yemen are determined that their country moves forward and joins the 21st century.

An expression of this new trend has taken an unexpected form with the emergence of a cafe society. Socialising in Yemen is often possible mainly in the traditional qat chewing sessions, a habit to which all strata of society seems to be taken with. However some young people are now abandoning the habit of chewing Qat and choosing instead to socialise in the several cafes that have appeared recently in the city.

As Yemen Times reported in an article on 22 November “Several cafes have recently emerged in Sana’a, presenting a new cultural trend in Yemeni society.” The author of the report, Nadia Haddash says that “Frisco Cafe and Facebook Café are the newest to join the city’s coffee culture. Both cafes are now among the growing community of coffee shops, where a new tributary to the cultural movement of Yemen’s youth—male and female—are flocking.” Haddash spoke to some of the cafe owners.

 “Cafes have become places where many educated young people go to avoid qat sessions and escape the restrictions of customs and traditions,” Ghofran Al-Khatab, the public relations officer for Frisco Cafe, said. “In my opinion, cafes are good because they help spread awareness and provide a space to highlight creative literary and artistic talents,” Al-Khatab said. “For example, at Frisco Cafe, we provide a place for people to participate in hip hop dances. Each Thursday, we hold a competition between hip hop dancers to help them spend their time away from qat places.” She said providing the opportunity for the youth to partake in bazaars, cultural parties and symposiums should be the main goal of all cafés. Regarding the policies of the cafe, Al-Khatab said, “Frisco Cafe was designed to be a comfortable place. We don’t allow people with unsuitable appearances to come in and start bothering others. The café pays attention to people’s appearances to keep up its reputation of the cafe.”

The Yemen Times report says that another new cafe, which sprouted up in the district of Hadda, is called Facebook Cafe—named after the famous social networking website.

Rawoof Uthman, the coffee shop’s owner, said, “The life of this generation is connected to Facebook, and they express everything that happens in their life on Facebook. They spend so much of their time on Facebook, so I chose this name to be a place providing the same atmosphere, but on the ground.” Uthman said Facebook Cafe stands out from the other Sana’a coffee shops because it is both a coffee shop and restaurant. According to Uthman, Facebook Cafe provides a special setting for families and young people, and it doesn’t care about customer appearances. He said coffee shop culture is growing in Sana’a because Yemeni youth are constantly adapting and adjusting to new cultural trends.

“Cafes aren’t an imitation of the West or an abandoning of traditions because the Arabs were the first to start cafes, but in the form of sessions and chambers.” “The increasing number of young people visiting cafes has resulted in the emergence of multiple cafes in Sana’a and has created more competition. Since young people look for new things, cafes must compete with each other to provide new services in addition to drinks, snacks and Internet.”

This report was prepared by www.links-dar.org with additional information from the Yemen Times (www.yementimes.com).