Some 84 per cent of Oman’s elected consultative council members voted on Tuesday for a ban in the trade and consumption of alcohol.
Zayed Al Rashdi, a member of the Shura Council, told Gulf News that amendments in Article 228 of the penal law to ban consumption of alcohol and trade were “due to the severe health and social impact on the community”.
He added that the council received thousands of appeals from citizens to free the country from alcohol. He said the phenomenon has a severe impact on health and the economy as well as on society. He said the government spends millions of rials every year to treat alcoholics nationwide.
Moreover, social media such as Twitter and Facebook is flooded with comments from nationals and residents in support of and against the recommendations of the council.
Such a vote, however, has a long way to go before becoming law, but illustrates some of the issues that have been a concern for the elected body. Conservative members have repeatedly chided government officials for allowing alcohol to be sold in the country.
The recommendation for the amendment will be forwarded to the Council of Ministers, or cabinet, for review, and then passed on to Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed for a final say.
Gulf News contacted an official at the Ministry of Tourism, who declined to give any comments regarding the proposal. Meanwhile, an official at the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Ahmad Al Mamari, told Gulf News, that he supported the Majlis Al Shura decision.
Ahmad Al Mukhaini, a former assistant secretary-general for the Shura Council who advises on the country’s political affairs, told Gulf News that if Sultan Qaboos passes such a law it will give the council more strength and power as a legislative body in the country. He added that more elaborate studies are needed before issuing such a decision.
Another national, Ali Al Hajiri, supported the decision, saying it will reduce fatal road accidents in the country as well as diseases due to alcohol addiction. Riyadh Ahmad Ali, an economic expert, however noted that such a ban would severely hit the tourism industry in the country, particularly at a time when the sultanate is looking to find alternative sources of income amid depleting oil resources. “It will lead to the flight of investment from Oman which will have a heavy financial toll on the economy”, says Riyadh.
Some nationals believe such recommendations will be shelved, like other such recommendations from the Shura Council.
Nasser Al Hatali, a citizen, noted that the council is a legislative and monitoring body as per the basic law of the sultanate but that it does not yet enjoy many powers.
A ban on alcohol may however result in those dependent on the substance to turn to alternatives like cheap, fatal liquors and drugs to meet their needs, said Rami Nasri, a psychologist. “Such alternatives will have more social and health impacts that will be a disaster for the country”.
Jeremy David, an expatriate who has spent 15 years in Oman, said he does not support a ban, saying “it will put the country years back”. Beside that, he added, both nationals and expatriates will travel to neighbouring countries on weekends to drink, which will lead to thousands of rials to be spent outside instead of in Oman.
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