In a historic move, Saudi Arabia has opened its first liquor store in over 70 years, marking another step in the socially liberalizing reforms initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Situated in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, the store is currently accessible only to non-Muslim diplomats. This development aligns with the Crown Prince’s ambitious plans to diversify the kingdom’s economy and boost tourism.
The store, resembling an upscale duty-free shop, offers liquor, wine, and two types of beer for now. Customers, identified through diplomatic credentials, must secure purchases via a mobile app on an allotment system. The move is part of new regulations governing alcohol sales to diplomats, aimed at controlling the unchecked import of such goods.
While these reforms reflect the kingdom’s shift towards a more open society, challenges persist. The international reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tainted by the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, remains a hurdle. Additionally, conservative Islamic values still influence Saudi society. Although Saudi Arabia has remained alcohol-free since the 1950s, recent changes suggest a gradual relaxation, with reports hinting at the possible inclusion of alcohol in the futuristic Neom city project. Despite these advancements, the kingdom remains cautious, as seen in the swift removal of an official who suggested alcohol might be considered at Neom in 2022.