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Saudi mulls controversial decision to move weekends to Fri, Sat

From Middle East Apr 25 2013 BY: Helen Burggraf , Contributing Editor , International Adviser

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Saudi Arabia is considering changing its working week to Sunday through Thursday, to bring it into line with most of its Gulf neighbours, but is finding the move opposed by traditionalist clerics.

Gulf media, including the Saudi Gazette, reported on Tuesday that the Kingdom’s Shoura Council had voted 83 to 41 in favour of the change; but by the next day, the council had moved to clarify its decision, according to Arabianbusiness.com.

“It will only review a study by the Ministry of Civil Service that recommended changing the weekend to bring the kingdom into line with the GCC and closer to the same weekend as the rest of the world, which is generally Saturday-Sunday,” Arabianbusiness.com reported.

It quoted Shoura Council vice chairman Fahd Al-Hammad as saying: “To review the study does not mean that it has been approved by the council.”

'Would help business'

Those in the Kingdom who favour the move to a Friday-Saturday weekend, and who have been advocating it for some time, argue that it would help businesses to communicate with the outside world, not only in the Middle East but around the world. This is because at the moment, the Saudi weekend straddles Thursday and Friday – which are both regular weekdays in Europe, Asia, the United States and elsewhere.

As a result, Saudi Arabia "overlaps" with much of the rest of the world only three working days a week.

Vast and oil-rich, Saudi Arabia is home to the Gulf’s largest stock market. One of the government’s current priorities is to broaden its economic base in order to reduce its reliance on petrochemical exports and to provide jobs to its young and rapidly-growing population. But, as the debate over switching to a more business-friendly work-week suggests, this strategy is not always welcomed by those elements of Saudi society who are opposed to change. 

Another Gulf country that has long kept to a Thursday-Friday weekend, Oman, is about to make the change to the Friday-Saturday weekend model, beginning on 1 May. The Omani Council of Ministers announced the change in a statement issued in Muscat on 6 April (a Saturday).

The change will mean that “the gap between us and Europe will now be reduced to three days instead of four”, Khaleel Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Khonji, chairman of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Gulf News.
 

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