Saudi Arabia opens its first-ever alcohol store — but it's only accessible to a select group

Spirits on show in a UK bar in Cardiff, United Kingdom.

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Saudi Arabia has opened its first alcohol store within the diplomatic quarter of its capital Riyadh, two sources informed CNBC.

The information, which has not been formally confirmed by the Saudi authorities, marks a main breakthrough for the extremely conservative Muslim theocracy the place alcohol has been banned since 1952.

According to a listing of store guidelines seen by CNBC, the venue is only accessible to non-Muslim diplomats, and authorization have to be validated by way of an app referred to as Diplo.

No visitors or individuals beneath the age of 21 are allowed to accompany approved guests to the store, pictures is strictly prohibited and cellphones want to be stored in safe “cellular pouches” in order not to be used whereas within the store. Purchases are additionally topic to a month-to-month quota system per registered particular person.

Read extra CNBC information on Saudi Arabia

Rumors have abounded for years that the Gulf kingdom, identified for its ultraconservative legal guidelines, would ultimately enable alcohol exterior of overseas embassies as a part of its broader marketing campaign to liberalize Saudi society and draw extra worldwide vacationers and expats. A store within the diplomatic quarter is a small step in that route, one Saudi advisor shut to the dominion’s royal court docket informed CNBC.

“It’s a child step to opening up alcohol gross sales to non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia ultimately, to inns and different venues,” mentioned the advisor, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

They added that one key goal is “to cope with the smuggling drawback that we have at all times had with diplomats.” Foreign embassy employees, who’re in a position to import alcohol to be stored on embassy premises, are identified in Saudi Arabia to typically import booze in massive portions after which promote it on the black market.

A Western diplomat primarily based in Riyadh, who requested anonymity due to skilled restrictions, mentioned that their colleagues had already visited the store and that it’s “extraordinarily effectively stocked.”

CNBC has contacted Saudi Arabia’s ministries of media and overseas affairs for remark.

Saudi Arabia has undergone seismic change each socially and economically within the years for the reason that younger Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now the dominion’s de-facto ruler, got here to energy.

The crown prince’s brainchild, Vision 2030, is a multitrillion-dollar marketing campaign to remake the Gulf nation’s picture, appeal to tourism and diversify its economic system away from oil.

It has seen a sequence of liberalizing reforms applied since coming to energy, permitting beforehand banned issues like girls driving, film theaters and live shows, whereas concurrently cracking down on dissent and imprisoning political activists.

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