Saudi Arabia Opens Its First Liquor Store In 72 Years

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Devout Muslims don’t drink alcohol. It’s considered haram, which means forbidden in Arabic. Other haram substances include pork, carrion, the meat of carnivores, and any animal that has not been slaughtered in accordance with Halal rules. While that hasn’t changed, the continuing modernization of Saudi Arabia has led to a surprising development.

Why Is Alcohol Consumption Forbidden In Islam?

Every major world religion has its own set of rules. In Islam, the Quran is the holy book that offers guiding principles to believers. There are several rules about which substances are allowed to be consumed. Any good that is haram is forbidden. Halal rules have some things in common with kosher rules, such as the prohibition on eating pork.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some scholars point to a passage in the Quran that refers to intoxicating substances as “the work of Satan.” There are also multiple passages where the Prophet Muhammed speaks of the negative effects of alcohol consumption. While some Muslims drink alcohol, it is considered forbidden and may have legal consequences.

Why Did Saudi Arabia Outlaw The Sale of Alcohol?

Prior to 1952, it was legal for liquor stores in Saudi Arabia to sell to non-Muslim diplomats. The presence of liquor stores was controversial. But the powers that be considered their presence to be a nod toward foreign diplomats who lived in the country and wished to drink alcohol.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The laws regarding alcohol changed after Prince Mishari bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud shot the British vice-consul for refusing to serve him another drink. The prince’s father, King Abdulaziz, imposed a nationwide ban on alcohol that’s lasted 70+ years. The prince was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. His royal status spared him the death penalty.

From Diplomatic Back Channels To Open Sales

The long-standing ban on alcohol sales didn’t stop diplomats from bringing alcohol into Saudi Arabia. In fact, it’s been an open secret that diplomats would receive shipments of alcoholic beverages inside diplomatic pouches. These pouches may not be opened by customs or anybody other than the recipient.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Saudi officials have stated that the new store in Riyadh is being opened in an attempt to stop the “illicit trade of alcohol.” Only non-Muslim diplomats will be allowed to shop at the store and they must receive approval ahead of time. No unapproved person will be permitted to buy alcohol.

Modernizing Saudi Arabia

The new liquor shop is part of a series of initiatives known as “Vision 2030.” The purpose of the initiatives is to modernize Saudi Arabia under its crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He was appointed as crown prince in 2017.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some of the initiatives introduced by Mohammed bin Salman include extending driving privileges to women, restricting the powers and influence of the religious police, improving women’s rights, and weakening the male guardianship system. Saudi Vision 2030 is designed to reduce the Saudi Arabian economy’s reliance on oil.

You’re Cut Off: Limitations On Alcohol Sales

The new liquor store in Riyadh won’t be without its limitations. Only non-Muslim diplomats can shop there. There are state-imposed limits on how much alcohol approved customers can buy, too. Diplomats will need to stay within the legal limits. Even though they have diplomatic immunity, there could be consequences associated with breaking the rules.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The new store’s limits on alcohol purchases are surprisingly liberal. Patrons may purchase 240 “points” of alcohol per month. A liter of liquor is worth six points, while a liter of wine is worth three and a liter of beer is worth one. Patrons must use a mobile app to track their purchases.

Who’s Welcome In The Riyadh Liquor Store?

There are strict rules about who’s eligible to shop at the new liquor store in Riyadh. All diplomatic envoys who want shopping privileges must register with the Saudi government to get clearance. Nobody under the age of 21 will be allowed in the store.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Proper attire will be required to enter the store itself. In Saudi Arabia, that means wearing loose trousers or a skirt or dress that reaches to the ankles. Women typically wear a head covering although doing so isn’t a requirement for non-Muslims. There’s a rule against sending proxies. In other words, approved shoppers must shop for themselves!

Rules Have Consequences

There’s speculation about whether the new liquor shop will lead to an expansion of alcohol availability. While there’s little doubt that alcohol consumption will continue to be forbidden for Muslims, the government may expand sales to include non-Muslim workers and residents. If they do, it will be important for drinkers to understand the laws.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Under current law in Saudi Arabia, there are several strict laws surrounding alcohol consumption. Penalties include fines and jail time, public flogging, and even deportation for unauthorized foreigners. There are also laws that could impact people who drink too much and misbehave in public.

How Does Saudi Arabia Compare To Other Muslim States?

You might be wondering how the alcohol laws in Saudi Arabia compare to those in other countries in the region. Since 1952, Saudi Arabia has been one of the more conservative countries in that regard. While the government has allowed diplomats to receive alcohol shipments, it’s held firm on the laws regarding Muslim consumption of alcohol

Source: Pexels/Aleksandar Pasaric

Many other Gulf states have had similar laws. However, some of the more liberal countries in the region have had a more relaxed approach. For example, both the UAE and Qatar allow alcohol to be sold to non-Muslims over the age of 21. Sales are confined to bars, clubs, and hotels.

What Does The Future Hold For Alcohol Sales In Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia might have opened its first liquor store in more than 70 years, but that doesn’t mean that things will change for most residents. Since most of Saudi Arabia’s citizens are Muslim, the new store will have no real impact on them.

Source: Pexel/Cottonbro studio

Still, it will be interesting to see how Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to modernize the country will shake out. A significant portion of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 30. As their economic impact increases, it may be that more changes-including an expansion of alcohol sales-will follow.

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James Stafford

Written by James Stafford

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