Saudi Arabia’s First Alcohol Store Now Open
Recently, CNBC reported that Saudi Arabia has opened its first-ever alcohol store in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh. This marks a major shift for the conservative Muslim theocracy, where alcohol has been prohibited for nearly seven decades. However, while this news has yet to be confirmed by the Saudi government, the store has already implemented a set of strict regulations.
Only non-Muslim diplomats have access to the venue, and visitors must be authorized through an app called “Diplo.” Additionally, no guests or individuals under 21 years of age are allowed, and photography is strictly prohibited. To ensure customers do not use their mobile phones while in the store, they must be kept in secure “mobile pouches,” and purchases are subject to a monthly quota system.
Saudi Arabia’s Slow Progression Towards Allowing Alcohol Sales
For years, rumors have circulated that Saudi Arabia, notorious for its ultra-conservative laws, would eventually permit alcohol sales outside of foreign embassies. The move is part of a broader effort to liberalize Saudi society and attract more international tourists and expats. According to a consultant close to the kingdom’s royal court, the recent opening of a shop in the diplomatic quarter is a small step towards this goal. “It’s a baby step towards eventually opening up alcohol sales to non-Muslims in hotels and other establishments,” the consultant said. They also noted that one of the key objectives is to tackle the problem of smuggling that has long plagued diplomats. Foreign embassy staff, who are permitted to import alcohol for embassy use, are known to import large quantities and sell them on the black market.
Western Diplomat Offers Insight on Saudi Arabia’s Modernization Efforts
An anonymous Western diplomat based in Riyadh has reported that their colleagues have visited a store in the city that is “extremely well stocked.” CNBC has reached out to Saudi Arabia’s ministries of media and foreign affairs for further comment. The country has undergone significant changes, both socially and economically, since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power. His ambitious initiative, Vision 2030, seeks to transform the nation’s image, boost tourism, and reduce reliance on oil. While the government has made strides in liberalizing reforms, such as allowing women to drive and lifting bans on cinemas and concerts, critics claim that political activists are being silenced and dissent is being suppressed.
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