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ECONOMY: UAE Recasts Weekend to World’s Beat

Meena S Janardhan

DUBAI, Jun 3 2006 (IPS) - As part of the drive to open up its markets and become a leading player in the Middle East and beyond, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has decided to institute a Friday-Saturday weekend.

According to a cabinet decision, federal ministries and institutions, local government departments and public and private schools will close on Fridays and Saturdays instead of the current Thursdays and Fridays.

“The move will help the ministries to deal effectively with the external world, mainly Europe and the United States. The UAE is signatory to thousands of international agreements which should be followed up by continuous work with the advanced world,” said Minister of Justice Mohammed Bin Nakhira Al Dhahiri in a press statement.

“We need to lessen the days which are eaten up by the holiday on Thursday as this affects communication with other parts of the world for the purpose of enforcement of these agreements,” he added.

A study conducted by the National Human Resources Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia) showed that the move would boost stock markets, banks, insurance companies and the UAE’s foreign trade. It would also help to increase private sector business dealings and reduce losses resulting from the difference between the UAE’s weekend and that in most other countries.

While the business community and economists welcomed the move, there was mixed reaction from other sections of society.

Mohammad Haider, an economist working for a market research firm in Dubai, explained the implications: “We have faced difficulties while conducting overseas transactions as we used to lose four working days – we are off on Thursday and Friday and on Saturday and Sunday the majority of European countries and the US are closed. This means we had no contact with global financial and investment centres for four full days.”

“This cabinet move would give a big boost …especially in tourism and communications, in light of the major expansion of development plans and negotiations for free trade agreements, which are currently underway with several countries,” he added.

“The timing is perfect,” according to Abdullah Al Hajeri, a UAE businessman based in Sharjah. “Coming at a time when our country is aiming to attract foreign investment and has ambitious economic plans, this announcement will further boost opportunities and the UAE’s relations with international markets.”

Office-goers and school authorities offered varying opinions.

“Earlier, my wife was off on Saturdays and I was off on Thursdays so the only time we were together was on Fridays which seemed to fly by like a flash,” said Vivek Menon, an Indian bank employee based in Ajman. “Now we will be able to spend more time with each other and our children will get the attention of both parents simultaneously.”

Said Pakistani schoolteacher Anwar Ali, “For us, the change will not be too difficult. Of course, it will give us more time to communicate better with our counterparts in other countries, but as far as our private schedules go, either Thursday or Saturday is fine.”

But Haifa Halabi, a Lebanese communications manager, was not happy. “Thursday was a good day to relax before getting ready for Friday prayers. It is difficult to get used to the fact that Saturday is the last day of the week and Sunday is the first day of work.”

In an interview with the Saudi daily, ‘Arab News’, a member of that country’s Shoura Council, Naif Al-Mutairy, also emphasised the religious angle. “People will misunderstand. Friday is the day of Muslims and Saturday is the day that Jewish people do not work. Taking a day off on Saturday will be interpreted wrongly because people would think that we are celebrating a Jewish day.”

Elsewhere in the region, Qatar already has a Friday-Saturday weekend and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are actively considering the change, though the move elicits mixed verdicts from the public at large.

In 2003 Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority asked airlines and local travel agents to amend the validity of their weekend fares to destinations in the Gulf region in view of the Friday-Saturday weekend that several public and private sector firms had begun adopting. Weekend fares are extremely popular among residents of Qatar, who visit destinations such as Dubai and Bahrain for brief holidays or business-cum-pleasure trips.

The chairman of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board urged Bahrain to follow the UAE’s example. “It is highly important that we make the move now so we do not fall behind other countries in the region, especially as we want Bahrain to be a global hub,” said Sheikh Mohammad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa.

“Large international companies planning to open branches in the region invariably enquire about the weekend to assess their opportunities,” he added in the press statement.

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