For most of you reading this, the weekend is nearly upon us. But if you live in Saudi Arabia, your weekend is, sadly, coming to an end. Because the Muslim holy day falls on Friday, the Saudi kingdom has long observed a Thursday-Friday weekend. Starting on June 29, Saudi Arabia will follow the shift of its Muslim neighbors and transition to a Friday-Saturday break from work.
The impetus for this move is largely economic. While a similar proposal in 2007 was rejected, Saudi Arabia has to keep up with its competitive neighbors. Most of the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf shifted their weekends in the early 2000s, setting off the race for foreign investment. Most recently, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have begun to draw attention as high-growth emerging markets. Along with this external pressure, the Saudi business lobby continued to push for the change from within. At last, the royal family has assented.
Until the change, the Saudi Arabian market found itself having only three working days in common with the non-Muslim world. With an extra day of business, the Saudi Arabian economy has moved one step closer to opening up to foreign investment. Currently, non-resident investors can only participate in the Saudi Arabian stock market through convoluted share-swap transactions, carried out by Arabian citizens. Given that the Saudi Arabian stock market has an estimated value of 400 billion dollars, foreigners are excited to take a more active role.
Many from within and outside of the country have lauded the move. Saudi businessmen were excited by the prospect of increased opportunities with the West. Mutlaq al-Morished, chief financial officer for Saudi Basic Industries Corp., the world’s biggest petrochemicals company by market value, said the move “will help us in the global business world.” Meanwhile, money managers from the major international investment firms, from ING to Morgan Stanley, are looking forward to a more open Saudi economy. As much as $30 billion of inflows could be waiting to rush in to the country as soon as it officially opens its doors.
Other weekends around the world
This shift leaves Afghanistan and Yemen as the only two countries in the world with a Thursday-to-Friday weekend.
There are other exceptions to what Westerners think of as the universal Monday-to-Friday work-week:
-In India, the standard work-week begins on Monday and ends on Saturday. Thus, a 48-hour week is the nation-wide standard.
-In Israel, the work-week begins on Sunday and ends on either Thursday afternoon or Friday at midday, leaving time to observe the Sabbath.
-Most unusually, Brunei Darussalam has a non-contiguous work-week. It consists of a Monday through Thursday stretch and a day of work on Saturday. Thus, the days of rest are Friday and Sunday.