Saturday, May 14, 2011

Alcohol in Saudi Arabia

"O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should, with joy, pleasure, revel, and applause, transfrom ourselves into beasts!" (William Shakespeare, Othello).

The consumption and sale of alcohol is punishable by law in Saudi Arabia. The punishment is a jail term and flogging. Yet each year we hear of an individual or a group of individuals who have been caught again either involved in the consumption or distribution of alcohol.

What is this liquor that man will break the law just to have a drop on his tongue? What does it have that man would risk going to jail just because he wants a taste of it? In as much as I have had a couple of glasses in the past (in my home country), I do not see why anyone would want to risk facing a jail sentence and flogging because he/she wants a taste of this liquor.

No one would imagine my surprise when I met a few people who suffered from cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer at a hospital, and who revealed on history taking that they were chronic alcohol drinkers. They lived right here in the Kingdom and had been carrying on this practice for years! This happened only a year and half after I came into the Kingdom. I was shocked. To me it was inconceivable that people did really consume alcohol in this country. Yes, I was naive.

Now I am not surprised when acquaintances talk about their drinking habits. Many expats drink alcohol when they meet for certain social events in compounds and diplomatic quarters. A lady teacher I know even talked of drinking once until she lost her senses because she had not tasted alcohol for a long time. She had been in the Kingdom for only 3 months and she was already complaining of going dry!

Some people even brew their own wine. They claim they use grape juice, yeast and sugar, but the result depends on how well you can do it. Don't ask me the recipe, for I do not know and I'd rather discourage you from trying this here. It is also said that some people brew beer, but I have never personally met anyone who did.

In certain neighbourhoods such as Qarantina, there are people who distill and distribute alcohol in large quantities. Some expats (one of my in-laws inclusive) even affirm that they have been proposed to buy a bottle of well-distilled alcohol. At what price? 200 SAR a bottle of 1.5 L! Pretty cheap to me.

Only a few days ago, the police in Riyadh caught 2 individuals, who were involved in the production and distribution of alcohol. An alcohol factory in the middle of Riyadh city! more. They were both sentenced to 2 years in jail and 300 lashes. 

It seems that most of the alcohol available in the Kingdom does not come from local brewers but is smuggled into the country (from a local source). Unfortunately, there is no data available to confirm this as alcohol is an illegal product.

Man. Oh man! Ye who cannot do without alcohol. What profit does it bring thou?


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