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World Cup fans find liquor in hotels, Qatar’s first liquor store

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — In a dusty neighborhood on the outskirts of Qatar’s capital, guards are on duty in a gated compound surrounded by barbed wire, carefully checking passports and permits before letting anyone in. But it’s not a prison or a high security area associated with the pursuit World Cup.

It’s the liquor store.

Rigid limits on alcohol are a reality in this conservative Muslim nation on the Arabian Peninsula, which follows the same strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam as neighboring Saudi Arabia. Football fans who came to Qatar for the World Cup got a taste of it just before the tournament as authorities canceled beer sales at stadiums.

Yet corks continue to be popped into luxury boxes during games. Fans fill pints of beer towers at dozens of hotel bars, lounges and nightclubs with liquor licenses. Sales of $14 Budweisers in the FIFA Fan Zone in Doha continue unabated.

“It doesn’t mean you need booze to fuel your life, but it’s a good time,” said Ed Ball, an American who created an online map for drinkers in Doha to find bars . “The idea that goes around that you can’t drink in Qatar is wrong. There are places.

In addition to the bars, there is the liquor store where residents and non-Muslim visitors can shop after applying for a government-issued license. Located next to an Indian school in the dusty Abu Hamour neighborhood of Doha, it is run by Qatar Distribution Co., a state-owned company under the umbrella of Qatar Airways, which has the exclusive rights to distribute alcohol and pork in the country.

The store – currently the only one selling alcohol in Qatar – operates on an appointment system, reminiscent of the strict coronavirus regulations that governed the country before just before the World Cup.

During a recent visit, guards double-checked the identifications and appointments of an Associated Press reporter. Barbed wire tops the high walls of the enclosure, which prevent the public from peeking inside. Signs warn that any abuse aimed at guards can result in the revocation of a liquor license. Empty silver beer kegs are piled up in the parking lot.

At the end of an alley scented with chlorine, customers reach the entrance of the store. Inside, shelves and stands are stocked with bottles of wine ranging largely from $12.50 to $45. A liter of Absolut vodka costs $42, while a liter of Jack Daniels whiskey costs a buyer $70. A standard 24-pack of Budweiser cans costs nearly $52.

A small section of the store offers frozen pork pepperoni pizzas, bacon strips, spam, and cans of pork and beans.

Customers filled their carts or carried bottles and cans in their hands, checking shopping lists or texting family members to check on what was needed. Several wore FIFA passes for the tournament around their necks.

Outside the store, a 31-year-old Briton who works as a teacher in Qatar, filled the trunk of her car. She declined to give her name, given the connotations alcohol can have in Qatari society, but dismissed criticism of alcohol and the tournament.

“It’s really not that bad,” she said of Qatar’s licensing system. “It’s like going to the supermarket – for alcohol.”

She added that she thinks the restrictions on sales for matches also make sense. “I’m English. I know what it’s like to be around drunk people all the time.

Throughout the Persian Gulf, alcohol remains banned in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Sheikh of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Drinking alcohol is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam. The imams point to a verse from the Koran calling wine “the work of Satan”.

But the region as a whole has a long history with alcohol, itself an Arabic word. The 8th century poet Abu Nawas was even known for his “khamriyyat”, or “poems about wine”.

Alcohol and pork are subject to a 100% import duty. Qatar says it uses tax revenue to improve healthcare, infrastructure, education and other public services.

Visitors are not permitted to bring alcohol into the country. Many hotels are dry and prohibit guests from bringing alcohol into their rooms.

Ball’s online map of bars in Qatar has been viewed over 875,000 times. An accompanying Twitter account shows it drink two pints of beer in 10 seconds.

“For me, drinking is like eating. It just goes with the culture,” Ball told the AP after returning to Seattle, where he works for Boeing Co. “I know it’s not part of Qatar… but it’s also part of the World Cup. . One of the biggest sponsors is Budweiser, so this shows you that it sort of goes hand in hand.

Bars in Qatar typically scan the IDs of those who enter, and many work on a voucher system during the tournament to ensure fans spend at least a certain amount.

On Saturday night, a group of Russians shouted swear words at the USA team during their match against the Netherlands as they knocked down shots and posed for photos with waiters at the Irish Harp in Doha.

Dermot O’Callaghan, a 66-year-old football fan from Dublin, Ireland, enjoyed a much quieter pint at the bar, rocking to the sound of Cuban band Chicas Melao.

“It’s very nice, you can have a drink here if you want in the evening,” O’Callaghan said. “You have a cohort of fans wandering around, looking for a drink.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.



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