Is Saudi Arabia going to witness its first liquor store opening?


WEB DESK: Saudi Arabia is poised to inaugurate its inaugural liquor store in a matter of weeks, marking a historic decision spearheaded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The kingdom has rigorously enforced prohibition measures against alcohol since its initial ban in 1952, in adherence to Islamic principles that prohibit alcohol consumption.

The groundbreaking development will witness the establishment exclusively catering to non-Muslims in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter. Access to the store requires authorisation through an app named Diplo, as reported by Reuters.

Diplomats granted approval are subject to certain restrictions, including the prohibition of bringing guests or individuals below the age of 21 into the premises.

Additionally, photography within the store is not permitted, and mobile phones must be secured in pouches during shopping. A monthly quota is set to be imposed on each registered diplomat.

Saudi Arabia has grappled with an underground alcohol market, with illicit imports facilitated through embassy smuggling, exploiting diplomatic pouches to evade legal procedures at border crossings.

In contrast, neighboring Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates afford non-Muslims limited access to alcohol through licensed establishments.

In an official statement released on Wednesday, the Saudi government highlighted the new regulatory framework as a concerted effort to combat the illicit trade of alcohol goods infiltrating the kingdom via diplomatic missions.

The statement emphasized the focus on specific allocations of alcohol goods upon entry into the Kingdom, aiming to curtail the unregulated process that previously led to an uncontrolled exchange of such items.

This move aligns with the ongoing liberalisation initiatives encapsulated in Vision 2030, a comprehensive strategy aimed at diversifying and establishing a post-oil economy through trade, tourism, and cultural endeavors.

As part of this approach, the nation has progressively relaxed numerous religious laws. Notably, in 2017, King Salman acknowledged women’s right to drive, lifting a decades-old ban and granting licenses in 2018.

Concurrently, the 35-year ban on cinemas was overturned in the same year, marking the opening of the first movie theater in Riyadh.

However, until this recent development, individuals convicted of alcohol consumption in Saudi Arabia faced fines and imprisonment, while visiting foreigners risked deportation.

The introduction of this liquor store signifies another step in the kingdom’s ongoing efforts to modernise and align with evolving societal norms.

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