Saudi Arabia could be opening the first alcohol shop the country has had in over 70 years within the next few weeks, according to sources close to the government and a document seen by Reuters.
Since one of King Abdulaziz’s sons drunkenly shot dead a British diplomat in 1952, consumption or even possession of alcohol has been strictly prohibited by law, punishable with fines, imprisonment, deportation for expats and even public whipping. Now, a dedicated alcohol shop could be opening for non-Muslim diplomats.
According to the sources, the store would open in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, a closed off, well policed neighbourhood in the Saudi capital where embassies and diplomatic embassies are located. Diplomats have been reportedly importing alcohol in official mail, which host countries are not allowed to temper with, and the new shop aims to counter the resulting “the illicit trade of alcohol”.
While there has been no official confirmation of the leaked information, the governmental Center of International Communication (CIC) told CNN that a “new process will focus on allocating specific quantities of alcohol goods when entering the Kingdom to put an end to the previous unregulated process that caused an uncontrolled exchange of such goods in the Kingdom”. This refers to allowing diplomats to legally bring some alcohol to the country instead of hiding it in diplomatic mail.
Once opened, the shop would have some rules. It will only be accessible by non-Muslim diplomats, who will need to register with the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and receive clearance. Once registered, they would need to go to the store themselves, as no third parties will be allowed to make purchases on their behalf. “Proper attire” will be required to enter and people under 21 will not be permitted inside.
As for monthly quotas, the store will be functioning on a point-based system. According to AFP, each person will be allocated 240 points per month, but, despite expectations of stringent regulations, a litre of spirits will only count 6 points, a litre of wine will count 3 and a litre of beer just 1 point. This means that someone could, in theory, purchase up to 40 litres of spirits or 80 litres of wine or 240 litres of beer per month.
Since no official confirmation has yet been offered, it remains to be seen if or under what circumstances such a store would open. In the meantime, from the current sources, there is no indication that the consumption of alcohol would be allowed for non-diplomats any time soon, not even for non-Muslim expats.
The move towards the legalisation of alcohol could be part of Crown Prince and de facto ruler of the country, Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030”, a plan to diversify the country’s economy from oil by attracting business and tourism. Among other endeavours of the Saudi Vision, the country launched a new national airline in March 2023, Riyadh Air, with the ambition of tripling its air traffic to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade. Riyadh is also being transformed with several mega projects, all due for completion by 2030, when the capital will be showcasing the fruit of the Vision at the World Expo 2030.