Alcoholic drinks market booming in Muslim Gulf

Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:03am EST
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By Praveen Menon

DUBAI (Reuters Life!) - The duty-free shop at Dubai's glitzy international airport brims with travelers choosing from row upon row of carefully stacked wine, champagne and whisky.

The lavish display highlights a push by major alcoholic drinks-makers into the Gulf Arab region, lured by a vast youth population and large expatriate community whose taste for alcohol remains undaunted by the heavy restrictions imposed on drinkers in Muslim countries.

"I almost always walk out from the Dubai airport with an expensive bottle of whisky," said James Wilkinson, an Australian national, who regularly travels to the region.

Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol and most Gulf countries strictly control the substance -- if they don't ban it altogether -- by making it illegal to drink alcohol openly.

Regional "dry" states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have strict laws against drinking. Many expatriates and locals rely on a large black market for alcohol and the occasional binge-drinking trip to Dubai or Bahrain.

In the United Arab Emirates, the most liberal of the Gulf states, foreign residents may obtain permits to buy alcohol from a handful of designated liquor stores where bottles are sold at premium rates. It is also freely available in licensed hotels and pubs.

Other Gulf Arab countries like Qatar and Oman also permit alcohol sale but only in top hotels.

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