Saudia Arabia is known for many things. It is where Mecca, the most holy Islamic site in the world is located, the spiritual home of more than a billion Muslims. Saudi Arabia is known for having one of the world’s largest deserts, and it’s also famous for being dry in another sense – no alcohol.
This won’t be for much longer though, since it was just announced that the first legal alcohol shop will be opened in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. The shop will be opened in the area of the city known as the Diplomatic Quarter. At first only registered foreign non-Muslim expats will be permitted to make purchases. There will also be limits on the amount of alcohol that can be purchased per person. So it’s not exactly a bottle shop on every corner with unrestricted alcohol sales, but it’s a big step in that direction!
At the moment, alcohol is completely illegal in Saudi Arabia and being found drunk or in possession of an alcoholic beverage can result in imprisonment, lashes, large fines and in the case of foreigners, deportation and life bans from the Kingdom.
Alcohol was banned in the Kingdom in 1952 after the then King Abdulaziz’s son drunkenly shot the British consul to Jeddah dead for refusing to pour him a drink. Since then, the expat community has been forced to sneak alcohol into the country in their diplomatic pouches, as well as resorting to making their own alcohol. Embassy parties have been well known for decades in Saudi Arabia and driving around the parts of the city where expats live you’ll see plenty of people leaving homes drunk on Thursday and Friday nights.
Under the suggested reform, registered expats will be limited to 240 points per month. 1 litre of spirits will be 6 points, 1 litre of wine will be worth 3 points and 1 litre of beer will be 1 point. This means you could drink 106 bottles of wine per month, or 3 per day. Although Saudi is known for its relentlessly hot sun, it’s hard to imagine drinking 480 pints a month, or 16 pints a day – every day.
Until now there has been a black market in Saudi Arabia with alcohol being very expensive. The government has stated that their main aim is to end the black market trade, and no doubt they will also be very interested in the extra income from taxes and duties on the legal sales.
Saudi Arabia has recently seen an increased energy to liberalise the country, including removing restrictions of clothing, male guardianship, females driving, and female participation in the workplace just to name a few. Previous taboo subjects such as relationships, sex and racism are being questioned in public for the first time, as the art community and film industry have started to blossom.
It is envisaged that if the trial works where only registered expats can purchase alcohol, that the programme will be extended to visiting foreigners. Nothing has been suggested that Muslims would be allowed to purchase or consume alcohol.
With the fast-paced changes Saudi is experiencing, now is the best time to go to see it in this unique transition between old and new. Why not join us in Saudi on one of our adventures!