Saudi Arabia is reportedly set to open its first alcohol store in Riyadh, exclusively catering to non-Muslim diplomats.
The store will require customers to register through a mobile application, obtain a clearance code from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and adhere to a set monthly quota for their alcohol purchases.
This development marks a significant step in the kingdom's transformation under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The move paves the way for opening the ultra-conservative Muslim country for tourism and business as drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and the nation's wider plans known as Vision 2030 to build a post-oil economy.
The new store is located in Riyadh's Diplomatic Quarter, a neighbourhood where embassies and diplomats reside, and will be "strictly restricted" to non-Muslims, news agency Reuters reported.
However, it remains uncertain whether non-Muslim expatriates in Saudi Arabia will be granted access.
The country hosts millions of expatriates, predominantly Muslim workers from Asia and Egypt. The store is expected to open in the upcoming weeks.
Saudi Arabia has stringent laws against alcohol consumption, with penalties including lashes, fines, deportation, or imprisonment. For expatriates, these offenses could lead to deportation.
Recent reforms have seen a shift from whipping to imprisonment.
Alcohol was accessible only through diplomatic mail or the black market.
The Saudi government on Wednesday (24 January) confirmed reports in state-controlled media that it was imposing new restrictions on alcohol imports within diplomatic consignments.
Its Center of International Communication (CIC) said that these measures aim to curb the illegal alcohol trade and ensure controlled access for non-Muslim diplomats within specified quotas.
"This new process will continue to grant and ensure that all diplomats of non-Muslim embassies have access to these products in specified quotas," the CIC was quoted as saying by Reuters.
While the CIC's statement did not specifically mention the new alcohol store, it emphasised that the regulations align with international diplomatic norms.
Saudi Arabia has been undergoing significant social reforms, easing stringent social codes such as gender segregation in public spaces and the mandatory wearing of abayas by women.
These changes, part of Crown Prince Mohammed's broader reform agenda, also include promoting non-religious tourism, music concerts, and women's right to drive, alongside a clampdown on dissent and political opposition.
Vision 2030 extends beyond social reforms, focusing on developing local industries, logistics hubs, and creating job opportunities for Saudi nationals.
Kuldeep is Senior Editor (Newsroom) at Swarajya. He tweets at @kaydnegi.
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