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Saudi Arabia to Consider Changing Weekend to Friday–Saturday - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Members of the Shura Council attending the inauguration ceremony headed by King Abdullah at his palace in Riyadh in a February 19, 2013 handout image from the Saudi Press Agency. (AFP PHOTO/HO/SPA)

Members of the Shura Council attending the inauguration ceremony headed by King Abdullah at his palace in Riyadh in a February 19, 2013 handout image from the Saudi Press Agency. (AFP PHOTO/HO/SPA)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Members of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council are considering making the country’s weekend Friday and Saturday. A majority of members voted yesterday to approve a study, proposed by council member Saud Al-Shammari, to examine the merits of moving the weekend. Currently, the standard non-working days are Thursday and Friday.

Eighty-three Shura Council members endorsed the proposed study, while 41 members opposed it. During the council session, members aired contrasting opinions regarding the benefits of such a change to the country’s economy.

The chairman of the Human Resources Committee, the council body authorized to conduct annual performance reports for the Ministry of Civil Service, said that ministry would conduct the study, and not be conducted by the Shura Council. The chairman, Dr. Muhammad Al-Naji, also said that a follow-up study would be conducted.

The ministry’s committees study the annual reports prepared by governmental bodies for each fiscal year. According to Dr. Al-Naji, this study will not be completed for at least a year because the official discussion on the annual report will not take place for another year.

After the session, Shura Council member Dr. Fahad Al-Hammad said: “Council members discussed the religious, economic and social implications surrounding this change. The council’s approval has confirmed that the study will be conducted to assess these implications and the pros and cons of the proposed change.”

It is thought that the change stands to positively impact interactions with the outside world. The impact would first be felt close to home with the neighboring Gulf states, which all have a Friday–Saturday weekend. It would also positively impact interactions with the rest of the world, which has a Saturday–Sunday weekend, effectively reducing the time offset between Saudi Arabia and these nations.

Those who are hesitant about changing the weekend point to the uncertainty that still surrounds such a move.

Sheikh Suleiman Al-Majid, a judicial expert and member of the Committee for Islamic Affairs in the Shura Council, said of the change: “The economic and social implications of the change need to be studied, as does the effect it will have on the labor market…. In Shari’a law, no one may come to a conclusion without first conducting extensive study.”

Dr. Saad Maziq, chairman of the Financial Committee in the Shura Council, said: “There is still uncertainty surrounding this issue. Technically, we have heard that it would contribute to bringing all internal and external sectors closer together; however, we must not forget that we live in a society that is accustomed to a set pattern of living.”

Several members of the Shura Council and economists said that approving the weekend shift would facilitate the kingdom’s dealings with the outside world, given that the weekend in most countries is either Friday–Saturday or Saturday–Sunday. As its stands, the difference between Saudi Arabia’s workweek and that of some countries is three days.

Dr. Issa Al-Ghaith, a judge and member of the Islamic Committee in the Shura Council, stressed that the weekend shift is not an issue of days of worship, but is instead an issue of habits, adding that religiously there is nothing preventing the change. He said, “I am among those who voted in favor for conducting this study and implementing the shift. It is not logical for us to say that having this weekend is a tradition of the Jews or non-Muslims, because there are Muslim countries that have it also…. It’s the way of the world, and in Islam there is nothing called a ‘weekend.’ It is the right of the people to affix their weekend to any day of the week…. However, Friday is the day of worship and it is a social constant. For Muslims, it contains certain rituals. Therefore, it is chosen as a day of rest and the proposal would not change this.”

Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Zamal, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh, said: “If the decision does not pass, it will be detrimental to the nation’s economy, financial institutions, businessmen and investors, whether they are Saudis, Gulf Arabs or foreigners. One example of the effects the current weekend has on business is the difficulties it causes in scheduling meetings. There are only three days on which we can have official meetings, and thus I call on the Ministry of Civil Service to study the decision and approve it as soon as possible.”

Dr. Khoula Al-Karea, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and president of the Center for Research at the King Fahad National Cancer Center, said: “I am among those who voted for the recommendation because it is in the national interest. The plan’s proposer cited statistics and economists’ opinions that made it clear that Saudi markets must align with international markets…. In my opinion, as a doctor and researcher; I believe that the shift will help international research centers to better coordinate and that it will facilitate work and scientific cooperation. We are currently forced to come to work on most Thursdays, in addition to the regular work week, because of scheduled discussions and talks with other international centers.”

Dr. Al-Karea continued, saying, “We observed that some council members asserted that the people had become accustomed to the status quo, and that it would be difficult to impose a new schedule. There are some who believe that a weekend that incorporates Saturday is un-Islamic. However we must put the national interest before any other considerations, especially since Friday, which is sacrosanct in Muslim tradition, will remain as is. The proposal was met with support, and its effect will not be limited to just the economy, it will also affect the fields of medicine, labor and research.”