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Saudi Arabia Inaugurates Its First Liquor Store, Exclusively Available to a Limited Audience

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Saudi Arabia Inaugurates Its First Liquor Store, Exclusively Available to a Limited Audience

According to two sources reported by CNBC, Saudi Arabia has launched its inaugural alcohol store within the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, the capital city. While the Saudi government has not officially confirmed this development, the news signifies a significant milestone in the highly conservative Muslim theocracy, where the prohibition of alcohol has been in place since 1952.

As per the regulations outlined in a store rules document reviewed by CNBC, the establishment is exclusively open to non-Muslim diplomats, with entry authorization verified through the Diplo app. Authorized visitors are not permitted to be accompanied by guests or individuals below the age of 21. Strictly enforced guidelines include a ban on photography, and mobile phones must be secured in designated “mobile pouches” to prevent usage while inside the store. Additionally, purchases are subject to a monthly quota system for each registered individual.

Speculations have circulated for years that the Gulf kingdom, recognized for its highly conservative regulations, might eventually permit the consumption of alcohol beyond foreign embassies as a component of its broader initiative to liberalize Saudi society and attract a greater number of international tourists and expatriates. According to a Saudi consultant with close ties to the kingdom’s royal court, the establishment of a store in the diplomatic quarter represents a modest stride in that direction.

The consultant, seeking anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, expressed, “This is a preliminary move towards potentially allowing alcohol sales to non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia, extending to hotels and other establishments in the future.” They emphasized that a primary goal is “to address the persistent issue of smuggling involving diplomats.” In Saudi Arabia, foreign embassy personnel, with the ability to import alcohol for on-site consumption within the embassy premises, are recognized for frequently bringing in large quantities of alcohol and subsequently engaging in illicit sales on the black market.

A diplomat from the West stationed in Riyadh, who sought anonymity due to professional constraints, mentioned that their peers have already visited the store and described it as “exceptionally well-supplied.” CNBC has reached out to Saudi Arabia’s ministries of media and foreign affairs for a response.

In the years following the ascent to power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who now serves as the de-facto ruler of the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has experienced profound transformations, both socially and economically. His visionary initiative, Vision 2030, represents a multitrillion-dollar endeavor aimed at reshaping the Gulf country’s image, fostering tourism, and reducing its economic dependence on oil.

Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a sequence of liberalizing reforms, permitting previously prohibited activities such as women driving, the opening of movie theaters, and hosting concerts. However, there has been a simultaneous clampdown on dissent, resulting in the imprisonment of political activists.

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