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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 18:09 GMT
Getting a drink in Saudi Arabia
The law in Saudi Arabia is very clear
By Adli Hawwari

Alcoholic drinks are banned in Islam. But alcohol can be bought easily in some Muslim countries - Jordan for example. The situation in Saudi Arabia is different.

There, the rules set out in Quran and Hadith - the sayings of Prophet Mohammed - are strictly applied.

The punishment for drinking alcohol is a public lashing.

But, as in every country that has tried to ban alcohol, smuggling and trying to make drinks locally has become the alternatives for those who want to have a drink, or for those who want to profit from selling banned substances.

Legal routes

Saudi Arabia has a large number of expatriates, some of whom live in special quarters. Alcoholic beverages are available to them, but the unwritten rule is that the drinking takes place behind closed doors.

Saudi Arabia man at market stall
There is a lucrative black market in illicit alcohol
As it is customary that diplomatic bags enter counties without being checked, embassies of non-Islamic countries are able to bring in alcoholic beverages. It means their staff may have access to alcohol, especially at special occasions like Christmas.

Western military personnel serving in Saudi Arabia may also be able to get access to alcohol.

During the deployment of international forces in Saudi Arabia after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the British Government wanted to issue two cans of beer each for members of the British forces.

But after discussions between US, UK and Saudi commanders, the UK commander, Sir Peter de La Billiere, advised against it.

Breaking the law

While there are limited legal means to get alcohol and consume it privately, there is also smuggling, which is thought to be more active through the eastern side of the country.

Saudis interested in bringing in alcohol can do so from neighbouring Gulf states, especially Bahrain, where Saudis can travel easily via a causeway. Another smuggling route is from Jordan where spirits are available, and where some of it is manufactured, like beer and a spirit known as Araq.

Those with a smaller budget resort to buying homemade alcohol, or make it themselves using grapes or dates. Occasionally, there are reports about the discovery of factories for making alcoholic beverages.

Whether it is good quality or bad, being found with an alcoholic drink, or committing a crime under the influence will lead to trouble, whether the person involved is a Westerner, Asian or Saudi.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 | Middle East
Britons interrogated in Saudi Arabia
13 Dec 00 | Middle East
US national held in Saudi Arabia
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UK helps probe Saudi bomb
02 Dec 00 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia's challenges
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Timeline: Saudi Arabia
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