CAIRO – Qatar has banned the sale of alcohol, a move expected to be followed by other Muslim countries in the Arab Gulf.
“Qatar is hardly the first Gulf state in which the local population has expressed its concerns over the sale of alcohol,” Guy Wilkinson, managing partner at Dubai hospitality consultancy, Viability, 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 Qatari government ordered a ban on alcohol sales in Pearl-Qatar, a man-made island near the capital, Doha.
The move was taken following complaints from locals about the growing consumption of alcohol in the tiny Muslim country.
“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 behavior.”
Islam takes an uncompromising stand in prohibiting intoxicants. It forbids Muslims from drinking or even selling alcohol.
The general rule in Islam is that any beverage that get people intoxicated when taken is unlawful, both in small and large quantities, whether it is alcohol, drugs, fermented raisin drink or something else.
Public anger has already been rising against the sale and consumption of alcohol in the country.
“I don’t see a reason to have alcohol [in Qatar],” Qatari writer Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud told the Wall Street Journal.
“It impacts very negatively on locals. Locals are not happy with it.”
Hassan Al Ibrahim, a Qatari commentator, shared a similar view.
“It is a taboo in Qatar to see somebody wearing the national dress and drinking,” he said.
But Chiheb Ben Mahmoud, head of Hotel Advisory for the Middle East and North Africa at Jones Lang LaSalle, believes that the alcohol ban was always a “delicate balance” for Gulf governments.
“Sometimes, local public opinion is heated up on the back of a combination of factors,” he said.
“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.”
The Qatari ban on alcohol sales is seen as a step to be followed by other Arab countries in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has an outright ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol.
In Bahrain, the government forced the closure of bars and clubs in the country’s three-star hotels in 2009.
Oman has also confined the sale of alcohol to certain hotels and restaurants.
Dubai also banned standalone bars and restaurants from displaying alcohol behind their bars.