The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has formally switched to a Saturday-Sunday weekend style from the country’s usual weekday, Thursday-Friday weekend, that has served the Arab nation for many centuries and continued after its global reckoning that attracted foreign investment, tourists among others.
With the new style, it means employees and schoolchildren in the Gulf country have to immediately start getting used to the new weekend style which will see them juggled work and studies with weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.
Some of the workers and schoolchildren grumbled at the change and businesses were split, with many moving to the Western-style weekend but other private firms sticking with Fridays and Saturdays, as in other Gulf states.
The weekly day of prayer has always been a free day in the UAE, which had previously observed a Thursday-Friday weekend until 2006.
However, mosques appeared busy as worshippers carrying prayer mats arrived as usual before many of them later headed back to the office.
“I’d rather take (Friday) off,” said 22-year-old Briton Rachel King, who works in the hospitality industry and has been living in Dubai for six months.
“That is what we all know and love, having a Friday off and going to certain places that are open and we could do things. But now it is going to be Saturday.”
The UAE made the surprise announcement of the weekend switch for the public sector in December as it grapples with rising competition in international business from other Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Government bodies and schools will operate four-and-a-half days per week, closing at 12 pm on Fridays for a fixed prayer time of 1:15 pm, whereas the Muslim prayer schedule usually depends on the position of the sun.
Out of 195 businesses polled by human resources consultancy Mercer, only 23 percent were preparing to follow the four-and-a-half-day week, but more than half would switch to Saturday-Sunday weekends.
“Luckily I have the same days off as my kids, but that’s not the case for my husband,” said Fati, who works in an international distribution company, asking not to give her full name.
“He works for a multinational that hasn’t changed its schedule for the moment. I hope they will do it quickly, otherwise, our family life will be ruined.”
Nearly a third of companies are worried about the impact of being out of sync with other countries in the region, the Mercer poll found.
“We work a lot with Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Rana, an employee of an events company who said some of her teams would have to work on Sundays.
Dubai’s financial district was unusually quiet on Friday with large numbers working remotely, especially at a time of rising Covid levels when many children are also doing online schooling.
“Today is the first working Friday, it feels a bit weird,” said a 34-year-old banking employee. Ahmad Bilbisi. “It makes sense to me, at least for the banking industry. We are now working on the same day as everyone else in the world.”