Saudi Arabia is planning to set up its first alcohol store in Riyadh, catering just to non-Muslim diplomats, in a key step toward increasing its appeal for tourists and business.
This initiative, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is part of the larger Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the country's economy away from dependency on oil.
The store, located in Riyadh's Diplomatic Quarter, a center for embassies and diplomats, would require consumers to register via a mobile app, acquire a clearance number from the foreign ministry, and follow monthly purchase limitations, according to a document obtained by Reuters. The store's entrance will be "strictly restricted" to non-Muslims, in accordance with Islamic beliefs that forbid alcohol use.
While the document did not specify whether non-Muslim expats other than diplomats would have access, sources familiar with the plans expect the store to open in the coming weeks.
Saudi Arabia has long maintained strict alcohol-related prohibitions, with penalties ranging from lashing, fines, jail, and deportation for expats.
Recent changes have resulted in a trend away from physical punishment and towards prison terms. Until now, access to alcohol was restricted to diplomatic channels or the underground market.
The decision to open the alcohol store coincides with new regulations limiting alcohol imports within diplomatic consignments, a measure aimed at preventing the "improper exchange of special goods and alcoholic beverages received by the embassies of non-Muslim countries inside Saudi Arabia," according to Arab News.
As Saudi Arabia continues to implement social and economic changes, such as reducing gender segregation and allowing women to drive, the opening of this alcohol shop is another step toward altering the country's traditional image and promoting a more open and diversified society.