Saudi Arabia has witnessed a historic shift as, for the first time in over 70 years, an alcohol shop has opened its doors in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter. The discreet establishment, exclusively serving non-Muslim diplomats, reflects Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s broader vision to position Saudi Arabia as a diverse tourism and business destination, reducing reliance on oil revenue.
While the store resembles an upscale duty-free shop at a major international airport, it currently offers liquor, wine, and a limited selection of beer. Access is restricted to those with diplomatic identifications, and a unique mobile app facilitates purchases through an allotment system. Mobile phones must be secured in pouches while inside the store, according to an anonymous diplomat who visited.
Saudi authorities have not officially commented on the shop’s opening, but it aligns with newly introduced regulations outlined in the state-affiliated Arab News. These regulations, effective from Monday, govern alcohol sales to diplomats, emphasizing control over beverage imports within diplomatic consignments.
Traditionally, diplomats imported alcoholic beverages through specialized services for on-premises consumption. Others without such access often resorted to illegal sources or home brewing, risking severe penalties such as jail sentences, fines, public floggings, and deportation, as outlined by the US State Department.
The move is significant in a country where alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited by Islamic law. Saudi Arabia, along with neighboring Kuwait and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, has maintained a staunch ban on alcohol since the early 1950s. The diplomatic alcohol shop, though exclusive, signifies a notable step toward increased social openness and economic diversification in the kingdom.