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Saudi Arabia’s first liquor store opens

Saudi Arabia is reportedly about to partially lift its total prohibition of alcohol as it prepares to open a liquor store in the capital Riyadh, but only diplomats will be able to shop there.

Saudi Arabia is rapidly opening up to the rest of the world in a bid to divest its economy from oil. Whether it’s signing big name sports stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sadio Mané to play in its football league, or developing its tourism industry, the Saudi state is attempting to soften its reputation for human rights abuses (as detailed extensively by Amnesty International) through a minor degree of liberalisation.

The reports of a licensed store selling alcohol offer a further indication of this trend.

CNBC suggests that the store will be situated in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter, and will only be available to non-Muslim diplomats. It also claims that entry to the store has to be validated through an app called Diplo.

Furthermore, each individual customer will have a monthly quota of what they can purchase (though one western diplomat described it as “extremely well stocked”), and phones are not permitted to be used inside as the Saudi state does not want photographs to be taken and shared of its contents.

One consultant, who wished to remain anonymous, told CNBC that the move was “a baby step to opening up alcohol sales to non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia eventually, to hotels and other venues”. It is also understood that the move is partly an effort to crackdown on the smuggling of alcohol into the country. Under current Saudi law, foreigners caught drinking alcohol can be deported, while citizens can be imprisoned or even publicly flogged.

There have been signs for some years that in a bid to woo western tourists (and, indeed, investors), Saudi Arabia would legalise drinking alcohol, though with plenty of caveats. Neom, a proposed 75 mile long straight line mega city capable of housing five million people, will reportedly have wine and cocktail bars, supposedly located just off-shore to skirt around anti-drinking laws.

The issue of how the Arabian Peninsula manages both to attract western visitors (many of whom do drink alcohol) while adhering to Islamic doctrine also appeared ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.

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