Lifestyle & Belief

Saudi Arabia: What's in a weekend, anyway?


Saudi and foreign Muslims eat fast food inside a shopping mall in the holy Muslim city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on June 4, 2008.


Hassan Ammar

It’s a debate that rages worldwide, pretty much all the time. It’s been raging in Saudi Arabia for a decade or more. It’s raging too, in fact, at this very moment, at GlobalPost’s Boston headquarters.

How can we best maximize our weekends?

As we know well, in the West, the weekend is on Saturday and Sunday. But since the holy day for Muslims is Friday, countries with Muslim majorities often hold their weekends on Friday and Saturday instead.

That wasn’t always the case. In the past, the weekend throughout the Muslim world was held on Thursday and Friday. Most governments though — over the last decade — shifted to Friday and Saturday to better overlap with financial markets in the West. Again, money trumps religion.

The very rich and very religious Saudi Arabia, however, has been one of the last holdouts, along with Oman and Yemen. But now, even Saudi Arabia may finally capitulate.

The country’s Shura Council, which is kind of like an unelected parliament with no real power to pass legislation (so probably best to take this in stride), is debating a recommendation to change the kingdom’s weekend to Friday and Saturday.

This debate is being pushed by the business and financial sector, which argues that a change in the weekend would help synchronize Saudi Arabia with other countries in the region.

"This is the largest stock market in the Middle East and it's operating on a Saturday-Wednesday basis," John Sfakianakis, the chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, told The National. "That's not very efficient for making international investors inclined to invest in Saudi Arabia."

Others, though, are having none of it.

Raga Agil, who works for a bank and probably understands the value of being on similar financial schedules with the rest of the world, told the Arab News newspaper that her family is “totally” against the shift.

“The current weekend has been associated with our culture. We gather every Wednesday at our grandfather’s home. Thursday is a traditional food day while Friday is a picnic day,” she said.

High school kids don’t really care but kind of want there to be three days. “If we have three weekend days we would be able to do our homework and studies well,” said one student, disingenuously I hope.

Western diplomats too — no surprise here — support the shift. “Expatriates living in the kingdom find difficulty communicating with their families back home. It is even more challenging when we can’t reach people dear to us during weekends,” a diplomat in Saudi Arabia said.

Of course, it could be worse.

When this GlobalPost editor feels burdened by his own ill-timed weekends, I often look for solace in the examples of Afghanistan and Iran, two countries where the weekend only lasts a single day — Friday. (In all fairness, they are allowed a half day on Thursday.)

Anyway, I digress. Can anyone out there cover my Saturday shift on June 12?