In an effort to shed Bahrain’s reputation as the "brothel of the Gulf," the tiny kingdom’s parliament has backed a proposal to ban the sale of alcohol on the grounds that it violates Islam and is linked to prostitution and public debauchery.
The country has already prohibited one- and two-star hotels from serving alcohol and hosting live music events, but parliament now hopes to enact a stronger measure. The proposed law, which would gradually outlaw the sale of alcohol until it is entirely unavailable, will now be taken to the country’s Cabinet for review.
“Drunken men and women, in addition to prostitutes, walk in the early hours of the morning unaware of their actions and not caring if they offend others,” parliament member Hassan Bukhammas, a supporter of the new bill, told Bahrain's Gulf Daily News.
Despite the Islamic state’s current partial restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption, it has garnered a reputation among its neighbors for its relatively permissive rules on booze and its vibrant nightlife, both of which attract tourists from conservative Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
But its parliament has recently asked the Culture Ministry to close down nightclubs and bars in the Juffair neighborhood, Bahrain’s social center. It previously tried to outlaw alcohol sales in 2010, but that proposal was vetoed by the country’s Shura Council, the Islamic body that has final say on new laws.
"I'm sorry to say, but Bahrain has become the brothel of the Gulf, and our people are very upset about it," parliamentarian Adel Maawdah, a supporter of the crackdown, told The Wall Street Journal when the movement to ban alcohol began to pick up steam in 2009. "It's not only the drinking that we oppose, but also what it drags with it: prostitution, corruption, drugs and people-trafficking."
If the new proposal passes, Bahrain would become one of the few countries in the world where the sale of alcohol is banned outright. Some countries with alcohol restrictions – including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – permit alcohol to be served at hotels and in some private residences. Others, like Iran and Pakistan, prohibit only Muslim residents from drinking and selling alcohol.
Despite the restrictions in some countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently found a relatively high rate of alcohol consumption among their residents. In a study released earlier this month, the WHO reported that drinkers in the UAE – excluding tourists but including expatriate residents – consumed almost twice the global average per year.
Bahrain’s proposal caps a week that has seen conservative cultural norms in Gulf Arab countries clash with practices of the region’s large expatriate population.
In nearby Kuwait on Wednesday, the National Assembly approved a bill to ban two-piece bathing suits for women in public swimming pools and at hotels, according to the Kuwait Times.