Saudi Arabia Opens First Liquor Store in More Than 70 Years

Saudi Arabia has opened its first alcohol shop in Riyadh, exclusively for a specific group of non-Muslim expatriates, marking the first establishment of its kind in over seven decades.

The store’s customer base is limited to diplomatic staff, who have historically imported alcohol through secure diplomatic pouches. The Saudi authorities intend for this store to counteract the illegal alcohol market.

The prohibition of alcohol in the country has been in effect since 1952, following an incident in which a son of King Abdulaziz fatally shot a British diplomat under the influence of alcohol.

Located in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, west of the city center, the store comes with several restrictions:

– Diplomats must register and receive government approval to access the store.

– Entry is prohibited for individuals under 21, and appropriate dress is required inside the store.

– Purchases must be made in person, and the use of proxies, such as drivers, is not allowed.

– A monthly purchase limit, as detailed in the statement, will be enforced.

However, these restrictions will not be excessively stringent. Customers will have a monthly limit of 240 alcohol “points”, and each liter of spirits is valued at six points, wine at three points per liter, and beer at one point per liter.

The store will cater solely to diplomats, with no current plans to extend access to other foreign residents without diplomatic privileges.

With alcohol becoming more accessible in Riyadh, caution is advised regarding consumption locations and post-consumption behavior.

Saudi law imposes harsh penalties for alcohol-related offenses, including fines, imprisonment, public flogging, and deportation for unauthorized foreigners.

The document also outlines a planned “new regulatory framework” to manage the quantities of alcohol diplomats can import, aiming to better regulate the exchange of such goods.

Until now, diplomatic staff have relied on their diplomatic pouches, which are exempt from inspection, for limited alcohol imports.

This initiative is part of the larger “Vision 2030” campaign, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aimed at modernizing Saudi society.

Other Gulf countries have similar alcohol policies. However, unlike Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar allow non-Muslims over 21 to purchase alcohol in designated venues like hotels and clubs.

The Saudi document does not indicate any plans to adopt a policy similar to that of the UAE or Qatar.

Historically, until 1952, Saudi Arabia tolerated alcohol despite its prohibition in Islam.

This changed after Prince Mishari bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, in 1951, fatally shot Cyril Ousman, the British vice-consul in Jeddah, for refusing to serve him more alcohol.

The incident prompted King Abdulaziz to impose a total ban on alcohol the following year, and Prince Mishari was convicted of murder.