Every year brings change, some changes are barely noticeable, a sight shift of sands that only the very canny can detect, and some changes are Shut the Front Door. This week in Qatar, we got the Shut the Front Door kind.
Alcohol prices have been increased by a shocking 100% on Tuesday. Not known to do things by halves, Qatar have doubled the price of alcohol and other luxury items under a new ‘Sin Tax’. For fear that carrying a little extra holiday weight and feeling the effects of Christmas on the pocket wasn’t enough of a New Years downer, the news of the alcohol price increase has shocked the gin swilling, vodka drinking, wine supping, whiskey lovin’, beer slurping western expats of Qatar.
The Sin Tax, ascended on Qatar with only a few hours notices and left expats no time to stock on the items on the sin tax list. All the usual culprits featured fizzy drinks, cigarettes, alcohol and they doubled the price of pork too, just to give a little dig in the ribs to the non-Muslims.
Prices of booze in Qatar were already double what they are in Ireland and probably three times that of the UK, but these new prices see a bottle of Baileys currently costing Eu. 120, a slab of Heineken, Eu. 98, a 70cl Bottle of Hennessy VS will set you back Eu. 145 and an additional 75 Euro if you want to add the OP onto that. As for mother’s ruin, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire will cost you Eu.82 and if you want to down a glass of red at wine o’clock a bottle of Jacobs Creek will be Eu. 34, thank you very much. These prices are from the off-licence, if you have been lucky enough to have a licence in the first place. The prices in a hotel, are reportedly Eu.17 for a bottle of beer but I wouldn’t know, because my budget doesn’t stretch to leaving the price of a trolley of groceries behind a bar for a few glasses of anything.
Both the hike the speed at which it was implemented has left the expat community reeling, so much so that nobody has had time to appreciate the announcement of a 30% reduction in petrol and diesel prices, effective immediately. Before the hike, most people were making sounds about Dry January, however it seems that no beer for a year might be the only option, but now that it’s so unattainable, we never wanted it more!
Only days into this new regime, it’s impossible to know now what the full effect will be. Some say that the hotel industry or some portion of it, will go down the tubes. Still other rumours are that yeast sales will rise, and thirsty eager expats will sacrifice the family bathroom for a home brew facility. More are wondering how it is possible to host a World Cup when a beer in a bar costs Eu.17. Who knows, one thing for sure is when the Qatari Government applied this massive tax, they had no idea just how we westerners really feel about our alcohol.
Unlike a ‘normal’ country where a situation as this would hit the media and we’d get to read, listen to and suffer a barrage a reports from every angle, here in Qatar there is no discussion and the news headline reads, ‘Sin Tax for a Healthier Qatar’, end of. No discussion and no public comment. Every other country has carried the news though, but I fear that if it weren’t for the fact that Qatar are hosting the World Cup in 2022, it would likely not have made headlines anywhere!
Despite this disaster, the days tick by and life goes on as normal and it’s clear that we represent only a tiny sliver of society in Qatar and the majority are unaffected by alcohol price and while westerners quiver in the wake of the news, our Arab counterparts have a look of ‘Am I bothered?’ as they flick their beads and sip an espresso.
Is this the straw to break the camel’s back? Land locked, air restricted, contractually bound and now facing forced sobriety, the land where now only the filthy rich can get rotten drunk.