Qatar Moves to Curb the Use of Alcohol

The Middle Eastern nation has designs on bridging East-West gaps in business, and, with the World Cup, in sports. But permissive Western attitudes toward liquor won't fly with locals.

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The recent ban on alcohol on Qatar's resort and restaurant-filled Pearl Island is a sign of a deeper conflict unfolding in the wealthy and influential Persian Gulf nation, The Wall Street Journal reports. The government recently shuttered sales of booze, leading to a drop in business for the hotspots that caters to the expatriate community in Qatar. The reason, apparently, is increasingly discomfort among Qatar's devout Muslim population, with public consumption of alcohol — in violation of religious teachings.

The ban comes as the country is preparing for an influx of an estimated 500,000 soccer fans for the 2022 World Cup — an event for which officials are already planning to make significant allowances for drinking — but also as the nation is trying to grow its status as a major international crossroads for business, without losing its national identity.

But many locals believe the open consumption of alcohol on the Pearl's restaurants, and cases of drunken revelry among foreigners, offended some Qataris.

"I don't see a reason to have alcohol [in Qatar]," said Qatari writer Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud. "It impacts very negatively on locals. Locals are not happy with it."

An increase in Qatari men drinking alcohol in bars—often in the full-length body robe that is the national dress, and sometimes in public—is on the rise, some observers say. "It is a taboo in Qatar to see somebody wearing the national dress and drinking," said Hassan Al Ibrahim, a Qatari commentator.

"You have these two parallel worlds that coexist: this Western, Dubai style world and the more traditional, indigenous Qatari culture. Inevitably they are going to clash at various points," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. "I think it's going to be a source of tension for the foreseeable future and it is likely to intensify."

The intensification may already have begun. Having nailed down a World Cup, Qatar is reportedly working toward a bid for the Olympic Games.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.