It appears that Dubai is mulling plans to generate more revenue by increasing alcohol sales. However, considering that alcohol harm generally dwarfs the revenue it can generate, this plan seems short-sighted and ill-advised with negative consequences looming in the long term.
UAE is a majority Muslim nation. The governance structure is a sovereign absolute monarchy consisting of a federation of seven emirates including Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.
As per Muslim faith alcohol use is prohibited in UAE, but some exceptions are made for non-Muslims.
Dubai, one of the emirates in UAE, is home to many expats as well as people adhering to other faiths. Hence the country used to issue a red card for non-Muslims which permits them to buy, carry and consume alcohol. Otherwise they could face fines or arrest. However, even prior to the pandemic the cards were not strictly checked in the network of bars, nightclubs and lounges in the country.
Along with the coronavirus pandemic Dubai has increased alcohol availability by legalizing home delivery.
The red card system has also been changed and the regulations of alcohol have been weakened. The red cards have been replaced with a black card which can be obtained with only an Emirati national ID card and no permission from an employer as before. Purchase restrictions based on salaries have also been weakened.
Dubai has also started allowing tourists and visitors to buy alcohol from distributors simply by using their passports without obtaining a permitting black card.
These measures are aimed at increasing alcohol consumption in the country. Increased consumption is bound to lead to increased alcohol harm and rising costs from the growing alcohol burden.
Alcohol policy in UAE
Both the recorded and total alcohol consumption in UAE have been growing since 2010, as reported by the World Health Organization. At 3.8 litres, the per capita alcohol consumption in UAE is higher than the average 0.6 litres in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region.
While the country has a majority alcohol-free population, the alcohol using males can be seen to consume a heavy amounts at 21.9 litres per user per year. Binge alcohol use among youth between the ages of 15 to 19 years who consume alcohol is also high with 39.2% engaging in this high-risk behavior.
While UAE has a complete ban on alcohol different emirates within the country pursue different policies, some of which are weakened and focused on short-term economic considerations, instead of public health and well-being, as in the case of Dubai. Dubai aims to be the business hub of Western Asia.