SAUDI ARABIA – In a historic move, a liquor store has opened its doors in Saudi Arabia for the first time in over seven decades, marking a notable liberalization trend in the once-ultraconservative kingdom.  

The store, located in Riyadh, is restricted to non-Muslim diplomats and aligns with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to transform Saudi Arabia into a tourism and business hub as part of broader economic diversification plans. 

The newly opened store, situated in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter west of the city center, was described by a diplomat as similar to an upscale duty-free shop found at major international airports. The store currently stocks liquor, wine, and two types of beer, with customers required to present their diplomatic identifications upon entry.  

Additionally, the diplomat added that a unique mobile phone app facilitates purchases through an allotment system, and customers are requested to place their mobile phones inside pouches while inside the store. 

While Saudi officials have not commented on the store’s opening, it coincides with recent reports by the English-language newspaper Arab News, owned by the state-aligned Saudi Research and Media Group.  

The newspaper covered new rules governing alcohol sales to diplomats in the kingdom, which are aimed at controlling the importation of alcoholic beverages within diplomatic consignments. These rules reportedly came into effect on Monday. 

For years, diplomats in Saudi Arabia have been able to import liquor through specialized services for consumption on diplomatic grounds. Individuals without access to such services have resorted to purchasing alcohol from bootleggers or brewing their own inside their homes.  

The U.S. State Department cautions that individuals arrested and convicted for consuming alcohol in Saudi Arabia can face severe consequences, including ‘long jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, and deportation.’ 

The opening of the liquor store is a significant departure from the kingdom’s strict prohibition on alcohol, rooted in a ban that dates back to the early 1950s.  

King Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, imposed the ban following a 1951 incident in which his son, Prince Mishari, became intoxicated and used a shotgun to shoot British vice consul Cyril Ousman in Jeddah. 

Drinking alcohol is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam, and Saudi Arabia remains one of the few nations globally with a comprehensive ban on alcohol, along with its neighbor Kuwait and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. 

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