Saudi Arabia has no plans to allow the sale or public consumption of alcohol, contrary to recent reports in the media, local daily Arab News quoted an unnamed government source as saying.
The official categorically denied “unsubstantiated” media reports and stressed that the news was “fake”.
“If you read the fake news, you will notice it is all based on hearsay and tweets by accounts known to have a questionable agenda when talking about the kingdom,” the source told the paper.
“As the country moves forward with its reform plans, we expect much speculation and attempts by critics to hold us back. And while people are allowed to speculate and criticize, their speculation should not be treated as the truth.”
A report by Bloomberg earlier this week cited residents and executives as speculating that the kingdom could lift its ban on alcohol as it looks to boost tourism to the country.
Saudi Arabia has implemented several reforms over the past three years, including allowing women to drive, reopening cinemas and permitting the mixing of genders.
The kingdom has also opened up public entertainment and has seen performances from international artists such as Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias and Black Eyed Peas.
“As the kingdom goes through an intoxicating social transformation, Saudis are now starting to wonder — some with excitement, many with concern — if another hallmark of their country’s strict interpretation of Islam might start to disappear,” the Bloomberg report said.
“Executives have told some foreign visitors to expect restrictions on booze to loosen in Saudi Arabia next year. Foreigners working closely with government entities are hearing the government is working on import licenses,” the report added.
However, Arab News also quoted a second source at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) dismissing the report.
“The leadership has made it clear from day one; it is simply not happening,” he told Arab News. “I have not heard of any plans to allow alcohol in major cities, free zones or new projects.
“Officials have repeatedly said all changes were and will always be in line with Islamic teachings and traditions,” the source added.