In an unexpected turn of events, Saudi Arabia has revealed that it is opening its first liquor store in the heart of the country’s administrative capital, Riyadh. After seven decades spent under strict prohibition, what was once considered unimaginable in the Gulf State is seemingly on its way to becoming true as alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase in coming weeks.
The only catch? The alcohol is exclusively reserved for official representatives of foreign states. The unprecedented move will seek to put an end to illegal imports and trade of intoxicating drinks inside the Kingdom. Since its official ban in 1952, the only avenue through which booze could make its way to Saudi soil was via diplomatic pouches: personal containers carried by embassy staff with specific legal restrictions that make them immune from search and seizure by third parties.
The store, which will be located in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, will aim at providing controlled and regulated access to formerly banned drinks for those with appropriate credentials. According to circulating reports, prospective customers will need to be above the age of 21, register online through a mobile app, and receive clearance from local authorities before being able to purchase alcohol from the store. What’s more, a point system will also reportedly be enforced with the intent of limiting purchases for eligible individuals. Designed to ensure responsible consumption, each alcoholic beverage for sale will be assigned a specific point value which will then be deducted from a monthly allocation provided to authorized customers.
For now, there is little information as to whether or not the shop’s access will eventually be expanded to other segments of society — including non-Muslim foreigners carrying no diplomatic privileges. Although it remains unclear how the store’s opening will impact local norms and values, the nation’s historic shift in stance only seems to indicate a gradual reconsideration of its approach to practices that were up until now deemed as Islamically impermissible.
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