In a significant move reflecting Saudi Arabia’s evolving societal landscape, a liquor store has opened for the first time in over 70 years, according to a diplomatic source. This development, although limited to non-Muslim diplomats, aligns with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s broader vision of transforming the kingdom into a global tourism and business hub, diversifying its oil-dependent economy.
Diplomatic Quarter Store: Located in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, the liquor store stands adjacent to a supermarket. Described as resembling an upscale duty-free shop at an international airport, it reflects the kingdom’s progressive stance.
Product Offerings: The store currently offers liquor, wine, and two types of beer. Access is restricted to customers with diplomatic identifications, emphasizing its exclusive nature. A mobile app facilitates purchases through an allotment system.
New Rules on Alcohol Sales: Simultaneously, the English-language newspaper Arab News reports on new regulations governing alcohol sales to diplomats. These rules aim to regulate the import of alcoholic beverages within diplomatic consignments, signaling a controlled approach.
Historical Alcohol Ban: Saudi Arabia imposed a ban on alcohol in the early 1950s, following an incident involving King Abdulaziz’s son. The nation’s strict interpretation of Wahhabism, intensified after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, reinforced conservative measures, including a ban on alcohol.
Societal Changes: Crown Prince Mohammed, along with King Salman, has initiated several reforms, including the opening of movie theaters, allowing women to drive, and hosting music festivals. Despite these changes, political dissent remains heavily penalized.
Ongoing Sensitivities: The move to open a liquor store signals a progressive stance, but challenges persist. Reports suggesting alcohol service in the Neom futuristic city project have stirred debate, highlighting the delicate balance between modernization and traditional values.
In navigating this societal transformation, Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed continues to grapple with balancing global integration, economic diversification, and the preservation of cultural and religious norms.