Modernising Friday in the UAE

The country has just experienced working on what used to be the weekend

Muslim men perform noon prayers at a mosque on the first working Friday in Dubai. Photo: AFP
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Residents of the UAE would be forgiven for being slightly discombobulated this weekend, as they experienced the first working Friday – alongside the second Saturday-Sunday weekend – in the country’s history.

This policy change has affected a wide cross-section of society. To be precise, 70 per cent of federal government employees are now expected to be in offices on Friday. Many private sector companies have followed suit, and more are expected to do so in the coming weeks and months. The change also affects schoolchildren, who now follow a 4.5-day week in most of the country.

People, therefore, should permit themselves a few more weeks of psychological reprogramming to get used to this significant change in routine. The UAE is, after all, only the third country in the Middle East to follow the Monday-Friday working week, the others being Turkey and Lebanon, even though many Muslim-majority countries have made the shift.

Notwithstanding some anticipated confusion, there has also been plenty of continuity. Data from the Google-owned navigation app Waze showed only a small increase in traffic around commuter hotspots on Friday. While this minimal disruption is possibly in part caused by holidays and more people staying at home due to rising Covid-19 infections, the largely seamless transition bodes well for the next few weeks and months when people return and, hopefully, coronavirus cases drop.

Those observing Friday prayers also adjusted to the new routine with ease. The dhuhr prayer time, which normally falls between noon and 12.30pm, has now been moved forward by roughly an hour in

most of the country, with sermons beginning at 1.15pm. Times remain unchanged in Sharjah, which has gone further than other emirates by adopting a four-day working week in the public sector. Manal Ataya, director general of Sharjah Museums Authority, told The National that she believes more time off will encourage residents to benefit from the emirate’s expanding cultural scene and museums.

Such hopes for growth in this new and exciting sector reflect the wider aspirations behind a new working week: to realise the UAE’s potential in a connected and competitive global economy, which demands agility to attract the best of future industries, connectivity and talent.

An early indication that business is ready is the number of private firms that are onboard with the change. A December survey conducted by Mercer found that most private sector companies were supportive of the move to a Monday-Friday schedule, with one in four set to adopt the 4.5-day working week. And, in a timely sign that disruption to business seems to be minimal so far, the value of real estate transactions in Dubai on Friday topped $690 million.

Amid this major change to day-to-day life, and the smaller quirks it gives rise to, it is important to remember that the move is fundamentally about reaping the rewards of the UAE’s progress over the past 50 years. Working Monday to Friday is sometimes known as the “western working week”. The UAE and others are showing that in an increasingly globalised economy, in which many different cultures and countries play a part, that term is due some revision.

Published: January 09, 2022, 3:00 AM