Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to serve alcohol at a beach resort in its £400bn megacity Neom, in what would be a first for the conservative kingdom.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a premium wine bar, cocktail bar and a “champagne and desserts” selection will be on offer at the resort, on an island in the Red Sea.Consuming, brewing or selling alcohol is illegal in the Kingdom, and those who fall foul of the draconian rules can face heavy fines, imprisonment or up to 500 lashes.
The island resort is situated in the Red Sea and is part of the Neon megacity complex, which abuts the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.
There are hopes that the sale of alcohol on the island will provoke less ire among pious citizens than if it were available on the mainland, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The paper said it had seen publicity images for the resort, which showed cocktails being poured next to bottles of spirits, while some adverts featured women in bikinis and shirtless men on beaches.
Neom subject to own unique economic legislation
The resort “will ignite the Red Sea as a new destination for superyachts and attract some of the world’s most affluent and influential people ”, according to the publicity material.
The relaxed drinking rules appear to apply only to Neom, rather than nationwide, with the city reportedly subject to its own unique economic legislation.
Foreign workers have said access to alcohol would have an impact on whether or not they chose to move to Neom in polling.
Neom, the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has been billed as a lavish, futuristic project with flying cars, robot dinosaurs and a huge artificial moon. One area of the city, called The Line, forms the shape of a 100 mile-long belt. Another part of the city will supposedly float on water.
But the project has been mired in controversy as the construction site is based on land claimed by the Howeitat tribe, who say they have been forcibly displaced.In April 2020 a member of the tribe, Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti, was shot dead by Saudi security forces during an argument, after he refused to leave his home. Saudi Arabia also recently jailed two tribesmen for fifty years after they refused to vacate their land.Critics of Neom say it is being used to deflect criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The Crown Prince has been accused of personally ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was dismembered in the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in 2018. He has denied that charge.More recently a Saudi court sentenced a Leeds University medical student, Salma al-Shehab, to 34 years in prison over mild criticism of the Saudi leadership on her social media accounts.