(CTN News) – Saudi Arabia has announced the opening of a shop in Riyadh selling alcohol to a small group of non-Muslim expats, the first in over 70 years.
The clientele will be restricted to diplomatic personnel, who have for years imported alcohol in sealed official shipments known as diplomatic pouches.
According to Saudi officials, the shop would combat “the illicit trade of alcohol”.
Prohibition has been in place since 1952 when one of King Abdulaziz’s sons fatally shot a British diplomat while inebriated.
Saudi Arabia’s Diplomats to Benefit from Unique Alcohol Retail Experience”
The new store will be built in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, west of the city centre, according to a document seen by the AFP and Reuters news agencies.
A source familiar with the planning told Reuters that the business would open in a few weeks. There will be limits, though:
- Thirsty envoys would need to register beforehand and gain clearance from the government.
- No one under 21 will be allowed to enter the business, and “proper attire is required” at all times inside.
- Drinkers cannot send a proxy, such as a driver.
- According to the statement, monthly limits would be imposed.
However, according to the paper seen by AFP, these will not be very strict.
Customers will be limited to 240 “points” of alcohol per month. One litre of alcohol will be worth six points, three for wine, and one for beer.
There is also no indication that the clientele would be expanded to include “ordinary” foreigners in the kingdom without diplomatic privileges, who are now denied access to alcohol.
While alcohol will become a part of Riyadh’s life, drinkers should be aware of where they drink and how they behave afterwards.
Under current Saudi legislation, punishments for consuming or possessing alcohol include fines, imprisonment, public whipping, and deportation for unauthorised foreigners.
The paper also stated that officials are creating a “new regulatory framework” that would allow ambassadors to bring in “specific quantities” of alcohol in order to “put an end to… an uncontrolled exchange of such goods”.
For years, diplomatic officials had to carry in limited amounts of alcohol using “pouches” that could not be tampered with by authorities in their host country.
The moves are the latest in a series of initiatives known as “Vision 2030” aimed at liberalising Saudi society under the nation’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.
Other Gulf states follow similar alcohol policies.
However, the UAE and Qatar allow non-Muslims over the age of 21 to buy alcohol in hotels, clubs, and pubs.
There is no indication in the Saudi text that the administration is considering doing the same.
While alcohol is banned in Islam, Saudi Arabia tolerated its presence in the country until 1952.
That changed in 1951, when Mishari bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, a prince, killed Cyril Ousman, the British vice-consul in Jeddah, for refusing to serve him another drink at a gathering.
A year later, King Abdulaziz issued an outright ban on alcohol. Mishari was convicted of murder.