Alcohol in Saudi Arabia- locals

Alcohol is officially banned in Saudi Arabia- for both locals and expats (unlike other Muslim majority countries where alcohol is allowed for expats e.g. Pakistan or countries where alcohol is served in hotels openly available e.g. Egypt, Bahrain, Dubai etc).  The reality on the ground is different and depends on socio-economic status. The vast majority within the country do not drink but those that do always find a way (outside the country is a whole different story).

The Commission for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue (CPVPV) conducts many raids to confiscate alcohol with the target being the working class. Every few days there are reports of locally produced “araq” factories being discovered and raided. The dealers and distributers are always jailed.

The wealthier upper middle and upper class Saudis (including royals) regularly import their alcohol. It is not uncommon to see empty Vodka bottles strewn in the side streets off Tahlia St (main food street) in Riyadh on the weekends. These individuals tend to be above the law based on “wasta” (connections) and “rishwa” (bribery)- basically anything goes.

So what does the average middle class Saudi do? He less likely to brew his own alcohol and he doesn’t have the means to be above the law; his simple solution is going to Bahrain to drink! The Causeway that connects the Kingdom to Bahrain is jam packed on the weekends as Saudis (and expats) rush to their “local Vegas”. The bars are crowded with Saudis “legally” getting drunk; the local traffic is horrible as inebriated youth drive the streets.  At the end of the weekend the locals return to their normal lives, some still drunk, many hung over- all waiting for the next weekend.

8 Comments

  1. Digital NomadAugust 1, 2009

    So much for the prevention of vice; how on earth is it promoting virtue when knowing the right people can get the well-connected out of a seriously tight spot? I’ve heard people in Bahrain lament long about the Saudis who go there to drink and what-not. It’s interesting that Bahrain and other Gulf countries don’t also ban alcohol (not that it would stop the drinking, but it would stop the horrendous Saudi over-flow).

    Reply
  2. AiyshaAugust 1, 2009

    Well I agree that drinking alcohol is a common problem inside Saudi, I do not think it is as widespread as you believe. Most families regardless of their social class do not purchase, brew, or import alcohol.
    I definitely agree that some people choose to misuse their social connections to gain access to alcohol (foreigners with connections are included in this group) and I would like to see a greater crack-down on these cases.
    Saudi Arabia is fast approaching a cross-roads wherein we must either tighten our laws and enforcement of policies/laws or begin to become more relaxed (perhaps allowing women to drive etc).
    It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years!

    Reply
  3. EssamAugust 1, 2009

    I know a lot of people who suffer from this problem. I wonder how much less traffic there would be on the causeway if alcohol were to be distributed in Saudi. But you did not mention that not everyone goes to Bahrain to get their fix. Some people like myself go to catch a movie or eat at a restaurant that’s not immediately available in Saudi. We’re not all black sheep. 😛

    Reply
  4. seraiAugust 1, 2009

    Digital Nomad: the CPVPV try their best but like every country in the world, the law has limits to its reach. Bahrain and other countries have internal backlash against alcohol but they would rather bow to Western pressure than respond to their religion & local sensitivities.

    Aiysha: I completely agree it’s not widespread- that’s why the first para states “The vast majority within the country do not drink but those that do always find a way”. Expats are amongst the worst offenders which is why tomorrow’s post is dedicated to how they violate the laws

    Essam: I’m planning on writing at least one post on entertainment options in KSA- Bahrain will def be covered 🙂

    Reply
  5. purple velvetAugust 1, 2009

    Reality is not black or white… There is a lot of grey in between. You don’t need to import your own all you need is simply the cash and a dealer’s number. Not all Saudis that go to Bahrain go for the alcohol.(Either way Bahrain is gaining a lot out of it) Not all Saudis that drink… Binge drink and get drunk… There are a lot of social drinkers in and outside of the country (not that this makes it not haram). People who brew their own (not to sell) never face problems. Just a couple of points that came to my mind that were not covered.

    Reply
  6. MissiceAugust 2, 2009

    I don’t know what to say.. I remember once I attended an orientation at my work when I started and there’s this lady who was advising foreigners and she said alcohol is forbidden in KSA but in reality its there.. Oh well.. Alcohol and other stuff are here and we can’t deny this fact. I hate to say that Saudis go to Bahrain to get their fix.. I know it’s true but I’d like to think that some are like Essam are going there to have fun and chill out.

    What I would find interesting is how can we solve this issue? And try to understand why do some people would go through a lot of trouble to make their own alcohol especially when it comes to Saudis.. Are there solutions that will help people find other ways to vent and have fun instead of drinking?

    Interesting post..

    Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Cookie MonsterAugust 2, 2009

    Hey assalamalaykum!

    Firstly, thanks to time difference, my comments could be 24 hours late (that’s the excuses done with!)

    While living in Dubai, we used to hear a lot about Saudis running over to Bahrain to get hammered out of their heads. I never believed it until once when dad had to go to Bahrain from work, and he took a pic of two guys (and we assumed they were Saudis), on the footpath, sleeping their drunk self away. Their Chevy was parked across one lane of the road 😛

    Since then, I have heard so much more about this problem. The problem however, is exactly like you state it – Influence and bribery are so easy to apply that regardless of what vetting procedures that you put in place, you will not get a fix to this problem.

    Reply
  8. Cookie MonsterAugust 2, 2009

    @Digital Nomad

    The reason why ME states don’t completely outlaw alcohol is so that the green leaves, and foreign investments keep coming in. To a certain extent, it is a you scartch my back, I scratch yours type of situation.

    Reply

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