Saudi Arabia’s First Liquor Store in 70 Years Signals Societal Shift

first liquor store in Saudi arabia

A liquor store has opened in Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than 70 years; a diplomat reported Wednesday, a further socially liberalizing step in the once-ultraconservative Kingdom that is home to the holiest sites in Islam.

The store is only open to non-Muslim diplomats. Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has ambitious plans to wean the country’s economy off crude oil. He wants to make the Kingdom a tourist destination and a business destination.

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The store was described as similar to the high-end duty-free store at an airport.

According to the diplomat, the shop only has two types of wine: beer and liquor. Workers at the store asked customers for their diplomatic IDs and then had them put their phones into pouches while inside. He explained that the mobile app allowed for purchases according to a system.

Saudi officials did not respond to our request for comments on the store.

This store’s opening coincides with an article published in the English-language newspaper Arab News, owned by Saudi Research and Media Group. The story concerned new rules governing the sales of alcohol to diplomats.

According to the rules, they were designed as a means of “controlling the importation without any controls of special liquors or goods in diplomatic consignments”. The newspaper reported that these rules went into effect Monday.

For many years, the Kingdom has allowed diplomats who are on diplomatic missions to bring alcohol into their country.

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Those without access to alcohol in the past purchased it from bootleggers or brewed alcohol at home. According to the U.S. State Department, anyone arrested for drinking could face lengthy jail sentences, fines up to $10,000 and even deportation.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Sharjah (in the United Arab Emirates) share this status. This is also the case for Kuwait and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates ).

Saudi Arabia prohibited alcohol in the 1950s. Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, ban alcohol sales following a 1951 incident in which Prince Mishari, while drunk and armed with a pistol, shot British Vice-Consul Cyril Ousman.

After the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the militant assault against Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Saudi Arabian rulers adopted Wahhabism. They also implemented a strict policy of gender separation as well as a ban on women driving.

Under the father of Crown Prince Mohammed, King Salman, the Kingdom opened cinemas. The Kingdom also allows women to drive and holds major music festivals.

There have been reports that Saudi Arabia has begun preparing a $500 billion project for a futuristic metropolis called Neom. Even at its beach resorts, alcohol could be sold.

However, there are limitations.

  • The government would have to approve the registration of thirty envoys before they could leave.
  • The store will not allow anyone under the age of 21 in and “proper clothing is required at all times” inside.
  • The drinkers won’t be able to send an agent, like a driver.
  • The statement stated that monthly limitations will be implemented.

However, there are still some sensitive issues. After a project official stated that alcohol “was not off the table”, in 2022, he was fired.

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