Saudi Arabia to get first alcohol shop in over 70 years

Saudi Arabia has recently announced its decision to inaugurate a store in Riyadh exclusively catering to a specific group of non-Muslim expatriates, marking the first instance of such an establishment in over seven decades. The designated clientele for this store will be limited to diplomatic personnel who have traditionally imported alcoholic beverages in sealed official packages, commonly known as diplomatic pouches.

Officials from Saudi Arabia assert that the establishment of this shop is a strategic measure to combat the “illicit trade of alcohol.” The historical context for the prohibition of alcohol in the country dates back to 1952 when King Abdulaziz’s son fatally shot a British diplomat under the influence of alcohol.

The new store is slated to be situated in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, located to the west of the city center, as revealed in documents obtained by news agencies AFP and Reuters. A source familiar with the plans informed Reuters that the store is anticipated to open within weeks, albeit with certain restrictions:

  1. Prospective patrons must register in advance and obtain government clearance.
  2. Access to the store is restricted to individuals aged 21 and above, and adherence to proper attire is mandatory within the premises.
  3. Drinkers are not permitted to delegate someone else, such as a driver, to make purchases on their behalf.
  4. Monthly limits will be imposed, with patrons restricted to 240 “points” of alcohol. Spirits, wine, and beer will be assigned point values based on their volume.

It is important to note that, according to information from AFP, these limitations are not expected to be excessively stringent. Furthermore, there is no indication in the documents that the clientele will be expanded to include non-diplomats without special privileges.

While this development marks a shift in Saudi Arabia’s stance towards alcohol, individuals partaking in alcoholic beverages should exercise caution regarding where and how they consume these beverages. Current Saudi law imposes severe penalties for the possession or consumption of alcohol, including fines, imprisonment, public flogging, and deportation for unauthorized foreigners.

It is noteworthy that, despite the prohibition of alcohol in Islam, Saudi Arabia maintained a relatively tolerant approach toward its presence until 1952. The change in policy occurred following an incident where Prince Mishari bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud fatally shot the British vice-consul in Jeddah, Cyril Ousman, in 1951 after the latter refused to serve him another drink at a function. Subsequently, in 1952, King Abdulaziz implemented a complete ban on alcohol, and Mishari was convicted of murder.