Qatar alcohol ban could be tip of the iceberg for GCC

GCC states may clampdown on sales to pacify critics in wake of Arab Spring unrest

The Pearl-Qatar island is a popular expatriate and tourist spot

The Pearl-Qatar island is a popular expatriate and tourist spot

Qatar’s move to ban the sale of alcohol on its flagship Pearl development may hint at the start of a Gulf-wide clampdown on booze sales as governments look to pacify local fears, analysts said.

The GCC states may move to rein in sales and tighten alcohol legislation in a bid to walk the line between the expatriate population and their Muslim citizens in the wake of the Arab Spring unrest, said Guy Wilkinson, managing partner at Dubai hospitality consultancy, Viability.

“Qatar is hardly the first Gulf state in which the local population has expressed its concerns over the sale of alcohol,” he told Arabian Business. “Following the Arab Spring, I expect Muslim parties to have more and more influence over the control of alcohol throughout the region.”

The sale of alcohol is strictly monitored in five of the Gulf states with Saudi Arabia operating an outright ban on the sale and consumption of liquor.

The move to offer alcohol licenses to outlets and non-Muslims is largely a nod to the region’s expatriate workers, who vastly outnumber the local population. But the decision has been met with criticism from some citizens who oppose the sale of liquor in Muslim countries.

Qatar retains comparatively tight rules governing alcohol consumption, said Wilkinson.

“Just a few years back, one could only find it in just a few luxury hotels and clubs with strict entry procedures,” he said. “The fact that its population has increased so fast over the last few years has evidently not changed the concerns of Muslims over the potential ill effects of alcohol consumption, particularly in terms of moral behaviour.”

A number of Gulf states have seen conflicts over alcohol regulations in recent years. Pressure groups in Bahrain forced the closure of bars and clubs in the Gulf state’s three-star hotels in 2009, while Oman has chosen to confine the sale of booze to certain hotels and restaurants.

Dubai, widely seen as the Gulf’s most tolerant market, last June banned standalone bars and restaurants from displaying alcohol behind their bars.

Outlets licensed to serve alcohol but located outside hotels were forced to tint glass doors on fridges, move entire displays and even re-design whole bar areas to comply with the ban.

Speaking at the time, the manager of Dubai Marina Yacht Club said he feared the clampdown could impact on business.

“The alcohol display creates an ambience in the restaurant. People like to see the bottles, it gives a good look to the bar and restaurant. There might be a bit of a slump in business,” said Hari Haran.

Chiheb Ben Mahmoud, head of Hotel Advisory, for MENA at Jones Lang LaSalle, said the open sale of alcohol was always a “delicate balance” for Gulf governments.

“Sometimes, local public opinion is heated up on the back of a combination of factors. It is common for authorities in these cases to act swiftly in order to defuse tension and prevent the issue from heating up further and getting out of control,” he said.

The suspension of sales on the Pearl could be seen as “a wake-up call or a reminder of the invisible red lines not to be crossed.”

Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

NOTE: Comments posted on may be printed in the magazine Arabian Business

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

Posted by: Bijan

I think in a modern civilized world, nothing should be enforced at gunpoint, whether my right to have a drink or wear a hijab. Of course, if a certain item is banned in a country, you can not have access to that. So, it will be my decision to enter that country knowing fully well I cannot have drinks or will not be able wear a certain dress item.
Question is would I go to such a country like Qatar to watch World Cup matches ? Perhaps not ?

Posted by: Lee

The story is over exadurated there is no plans to ban alcohol. The pearl ban only came in due to too many locals getting caught drunk. If it is such a big issue why is nothing done to deal with the Muslim men drinking? The clubs and bars are full with either Qatari or Saudi men drinking but I don't see any attempt to punish them. Personally I'd love to see a full ban then the world cup can be cancelled and moved to somewhere decent!

Posted by: haveitathomebro

Moderation is the key to this problem.
But how is moderation demonstrable?? No one would like to sit uptight and try to act sober after a couple of drinks. The whole point of enjoying a drink is lost.
Being an enthusiast of 'vices' albeit in moderation myself, I still cannot comprehend as to why the provision of liqour sales is so essential to the Tourism industry.
Perhaps it is a cultural thing, applicable only to the West.
In many Asian countries, serving liquor in public places where people come with their family,is not a good Idea.
Now the question is whether GCC countries would like to cater to the fancies of a few stingy tourists from the West or look east, towards their own region,the subcontinent or the far east,where drinking in public is not essential for one's survival

Posted by: haveitathomebro

@ Saffa expat I wonder from where you get your FACTS from
A strong drinking 'culture' where, it is permissible in all social occasions/events is 'a Western concept'.And the fact that you are from SouthAfrica doesn't negate it.
If you had read my post carefully, instead of musing on the fate of Euro and delving on demography,you would see that I had never stated that drinking does not happen in public in the East.But there is a general sentiment against public liquor consumption in the Asian ethos,however,diluted by 'Western influence, the way it happened in your country and others you had so kindly enumerated.
Had you kept abreast of the affairs of tourism in Gulf,courtesy this website, you would realize how,Abudhabi and Muscat are,for focussing on the Indian and Chinese tourists.Or rather people who dont always need to have liquor within arms length.
You would do well to update yourself before your get on your high horse
@harribro they just dont want to attract that crowd anymore.

Posted by: Saffa Expat

@haveitathomebro FACT... the East has a strong drinking culture all the way from India to Fiji - much like the West. Any delusion that drinking does not take place in public in the east is as ignorant as the European Union for thinking they can save the sinking Euro. I am a "Westerner" from South Africa, and funny enough we have a big drinking culture there... oh and South America... and Australasia...
Your arguement about attracting better investment from the East is as stupid as asking how far West do you have to go before your heading East.

Posted by: harribo

@ haveitathomebro, you "cannot comprehend as to why the provision of liqour sales is so essential to the Tourism industry."?

It is essential because tourists and expats want it. It's that simply. If Qatar wants tourism and wants to attract expats (which is the case), they need to cater to their tastes.

Posted by: deino100

World Cup in the searing heat without any beer, well done Qatar, that'll be a winner for sure with everyone who doesnt come from the Middle East, which is about 99.9% of the footballl nations!

Posted by: Marijke

@PKK, does the fact that other Muslims decide to commit haram, make alcohol ok? No it doesn't. @Charles: I am for a full ban on alcohol, it is not permissable and GCC govt should stop accomodating to non Muslims (and Muslims who do haram) in ways that are not allowed for us. So when a country decides it's time for banning alcohol, I can only encourage that.

Posted by: Stu

Marijke, I think that the crux of the matter is that the Middle East is not self sufficient in many Skilled Areas of employment and the only way to make the Middle East an attractive proposition to many expat workers is to offer them a little tolerance. Being a UK national who has enjoyed working in both Bahrain and Qatar, I can't see why those countries should not continue to tolerate a few of our ways of life. By this I am not condoning loutish, booze fuelled behaviour, but the ability to go and have a nice sociable drink with friends. After all we in the UK go out of the way to tolerate some of your faith's customs which are totally alien to us.

Posted by: jje

@ Najib, nobody has banned the hajib and niqab. All face coverings have been banned for security reasons. This helps protect everyone - even arabs and muslims.

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
Sailing home: Barr Al Jissah creating luxury living in Oman

Sailing home: Barr Al Jissah creating luxury living in Oman

On a stunning tip of Oman’s almost-secluded coastline, local...

Arabian Travel Market: Diversification drives tourism investment

Arabian Travel Market: Diversification drives tourism investment

ATM in Dubai will show the changing face of the industry as entertainment...

Checking in to Africa's hospitality revolution

Checking in to Africa's hospitality revolution

With the African population soaring by 30 million people a year...

Most Discussed