In a landmark move, Saudi Arabia has opened its first liquor store in over 70 years. This development is seen as a significant step towards social liberalization in a kingdom that was once known for its ultraconservative stance.
The store, located in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, is currently restricted to non-Muslim diplomats. Despite the restrictions, the opening of the store is viewed as a progressive step by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a business and tourism hub.
The store, which resembles an upscale duty-free shop at a major international airport, currently stocks liquor, wine, and two types of beer. To ensure compliance with the rules, customers are required to present their diplomatic identifications and place their mobile phones inside pouches while inside.
This move coincides with new rules governing alcohol sales to diplomats in the kingdom. These rules, which took effect recently, are aimed at curbing the uncontrolled importing of special goods and liquors within diplomatic consignments.
While the opening of the liquor store is a significant step, challenges remain. The prince’s international reputation took a hit following the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Additionally, the conservative Islamic mores that have governed Saudi Arabia for decades could pose internal challenges.
Despite these challenges, the opening of the liquor store is a clear indication of the changing social landscape in Saudi Arabia. As the kingdom continues to liberalize, it will be interesting to see how these changes impact its society and economy.