In yet another surprising move towards so-called modernization, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has ordered the opening of alcohol stores in Riyadh.
According to a report by Reuters this Thursday, Saudi Arabia is preparing to open up alcohol stores in the capital city of Riyadh, a move that contradicts years of prohibition of alcohol use and sale in the Kingdom based mostly on Islamic beliefs.
As the report noted, “the store will only sell alcohol to visiting non-Muslim customers and they will have to register via a mobile app and get a clearance code from Saudi’s foreign ministry, and then respect monthly quotas.”
Although the report said that the alcohol stores are expected to open in the coming weeks, many have already begun rebuking the Saudi young Crown Prince for dismissing Islamic rules and ignoring the will of the Saudi people on such issues.
Back in 2022, and during a conference in Dubai, Andrew McEvoy, former head of Saudi tourism at NEOM said on stage that “alcohol was not off the table” within the project. McEvoy stepped down from his role and left the country following the conference. Two weeks later, the local government said it would not legalize alcohol.
The Saudi government rebuked the idea back then as the country’s Press Agency issued a statement surrounding McEvoy’s comments at the conference, stating that his comments do not reflect the plans or beliefs of the country. But now, less than a year later, the Kingdom is officially disregarding the social stigma attached to the use and sale of alcohol in the Muslim country and is doing what it used to evade.
Where will MBS’s modernization path finally lead to?
Everything about modernization in Saudi Arabia under the rule of Bin Salman comes from the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, an ambitious document that outlines Salman’s ideals for a better Saudi Arabia in the next seven years. The plan includes almost everything that a modern society requires to fit in the definition of development created by Western literature.
As the very 2030 Vision document reads, “Vision 2030 is to bring the Saudis modern Islam, national pride, keep Saudi heritage and culture, while also provide world-class entertainment options, sustainable living, and efficient health and social care systems.”
However, not everyone in the Kingdom is happy with what Bin Salman is doing to turn the country into a modern society.
According to the results of a newly carried out survey by the Washington Institute, more than half of the Saudi population disagrees or at least doesn’t feel comfortable with Bin Salman’s policies toward modernizing Islam in the country.
Other surveys, however, show what matters for Saudi people that might not even be mentioned as a concern in the ambitious Vision 2030. According to one of these surveys, around half of Saudis (54%) in late 2022 believed the Kingdom was “doing too little” in reducing corruption in economics and politics.
To shed more light on the matter, Bin Salman has always been criticized for disregarding democracy and human rights mostly by eliminating his rivals and critics in the most horrific ways. The case of Jamal Khashoggi is only one example of Bin Salman’s approach toward those who dare to question his policies.
Will the ambitious young Crown Prince finally have to stand against his own people as he disparately tries to modernize Islam in his Traditionally Muslim country at any price? Time will tell.