Alcohol in Saudi Arabia- expats

When it comes to alcohol the worst offenders in the Kingdom are often from the expatriate community. 9 out of 10 news reports about raids on producers, suppliers and distributors includes at least one, if not more, expats within the illegal alcohol supply chain.

There are the expats who run factories to produce the local brew called “araq”. There are the dealers who are middlemen between local & imported drinks and the buyers. Often from the working class, they are jailed or deported when they are caught by the Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue (CPVPV).

MANY Western expats, who mostly live inside guarded compounds, are involved by degrees in importing/buying/selling alcohol and brewing their own moonshine for consumption. The importers (from Bahrain and UAE) are able to make a huge profit from selling the illegal alcohol. These dealers are rarely caught while crossing the border and fewer still are deported if they are detained at customs. The ones who brew their own spirits tend to do so in smaller quantities for personal consumption (rather than for sale) and never get caught as they keep it contained within the compounds. There are parties and happy hours (even at embassies) where everything is available.

What is odd however is the attitude several Western expats have towards alcohol consumption even though they know it is illegal. Many are smug that they are able to break the rules of the country without getting caught; they consider it their right to indulge in their own whims/desires rather than respect the religion and cultural sensibilities of their hosts. As they lament the laws of the Kingdom and the unruly traffic (“Saudi roads are crazy/death traps. I wish the Saudis would follow traffic rules”) they seem to forget that they are also violating the law!

Everyone is selective about which laws they choose to follow and which ones they choose to violate. And thus the pot calls the kettle black, or as the Arabic saying goes, “the camel cannot see the crookedness of its own neck.”


  1. Digital NomadAugust 2, 2009

    That’s a great saying, I leaned a new one 🙂

    Another thing you hear expats in the ME often complain (or is it smirk?) about is the fact that Arabs/Muslims drink so much…never going into how much they, the expats/foreigners (whether they personally or not), are benefiting financially from this failing. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Cookie MonsterAugust 3, 2009

    Ya, I agree with you totally again.

    People will only uphold those rules, regulations, laws or rituals which they “relate” to. If they can get away with brushing something under the carpet, then why not take the opportunity.

    From my perspective, the core point to this and many problems is the greed of money which people have; if the people in KSA (for starters) realise that they have more green than they can handle, and there is plenty to go around, perhaps they COULD clean up these ‘issues’. Ofcourse, when does one ever have enough money? I doubt this problem will ever go away.

  3. nasheAugust 3, 2009

    Yes, but I doubt the dynamics, laws and other stuff will change much no matter what… I mean, even the royal family drinks! It’s a very hypocritical situation there.

  4. AiyshaAugust 3, 2009

    It will be interesting to see how our government negotiates these issues in the coming years, I think they will continue to turn a blind eye until they are forced to do otherwise. Perhaps an important person will be killed by a drunk driver or someone will perish from drinking ethanol (common drink when people cannot find alcohol to consume).
    It is frustrating that hypocrisy is the expected norm.

  5. NidalMAugust 4, 2009

    The problem (I think) is that the atmosphere here is of a system where laws exist, but are not enforced (or are only enforced selectively). The fact is, the risks of getting caught are insignificant, weather they be simple offenses like improper parking or more malign ones like driving while drunk.

  6. ChiaraAugust 11, 2009

    As a non-drinker, I guess it is easy for me to find this “need” for alcohol that expats express, including on blogs about their trips to Bahrain, rather adolescent at best.

    It is, to me, a risk to break the law, as those who have been arrested for other infractions have found out when their homes are raided and alcohol found, adding new charges. Dare I name William Sampson, et al., arrested for being part of a bootlegging ring that was in conflict with another and planting bombs against other Westerners? According to the Western view, they were innocent of the bombing charges, but they themselves did agree they had been involved with illegal stills, home parties involving alcohol, and expat pubs. They were pardonned for the bombings by King Fahd to preserve relations with Great Britain–but not before being tortured and held in dreadful conditions.

    Bottom line, if you break the laws on alcohol you could find that for whatever reason it is added to other real or false charges, or that a shift in enforcement would catch you out.

    Drunk driving should be severely punished–by withdrawal of the driving licence at least temporarily–everywhere, IMO.


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