When Saturday replaced Thursday: the UAE’s last weekend change

Residents reflect on previous changes to the calendar

The Dubai Creek in January 2006. The country changed one of the weekend days from Thursday to Saturday in the same year. Photo: Bernd Weissbrod
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Latest: UAE weekend change: Saturday-Sunday off

It was a simple headline that introduced a sweeping change: "Saturday to replace Thursday as weekend in the UAE as of September 1".

"Federal ministries, government departments and schools would now close on Friday and Saturday,” reported state news agency Wam on May 16, 2006.

“Saturday will therefore replace Thursday as weekend."

The decision brought the UAE closer in line with the rest of the world.

When Thursday became a holiday, it was welcome relief
Stanley Johnson

Media reports from the time reflected on how the new weekend would boost business, the stock market and foreign trade as it would reduce the interruption between the world and the UAE’s weekend.

But the 2006 announcement was not the first alteration to the schedule. For decades, it had only been Friday, meaning life could be challenging for businesses.

"In 1981, our weekend was Friday afternoon," said Tim Sanderson, who worked in the UAE at the time. "We had to be in the office on Thursday [afternoon] and Friday [morning] in case a customer contacted us. There were no emails, mobiles or pagers – just rotary dial phones and telex."

By 1999, the UAE had decided to fix the weekend as Thursday and Friday.

“I distinctly remember the shift from a single weekend day of Friday to an additional day in Thursday,” said Stanley Johnson, who was in high school in Sharjah at the time.

“I remember having Thursdays initially as a half school day as schools tried to complete portions before exams by cramming in the extra half day for higher classes,” said Mr Johnson.

“When Thursday became a holiday it was welcome relief.”

Despite the 1999 change, the UAE was still not aligned with the global working week at a time when the country’s financial markets were growing rapidly.

Business people and media professionals in the West had to work hard to ensure their tasks were completed.

“[I have] fond memories of reporting on the Middle East from London in 2003, [with] a wallchart that showed different time zones and working days across the region,” said John Everington, who worked as a business journalist.

“I remember scrambling to get UAE [government] entities on the phone before 11am on Wednesday to have any hope of a comment before press day.”

The 2006 decision changed this as the country modernised and adapted to new challenges.

“Our weekend was getting closer to the western world,” said Marites Dizon, who has lived in the UAE since 1997.

“On the business side of things, the switch was good in terms of communication with the rest of the world.”

A year after the 2006 change, local newspapers reported that it had been welcomed by most residents but many in the private sector still continued to work a six-day week.

The rest of the Gulf followed, with Saudi Arabia the last to make the change in 2013.

UAE authorities on Tuesday have now gone one step further and the country becomes the first in the Arabian Gulf to introduce a weekend on Saturday and Sunday.

"Many developed countries have shown the benefits of shorter work weeks and this move may take a while for everyone to get used to but, in the long run, it is a positive change that many will appreciate,” said Mr Johnson, who still lives in the UAE.

“Flexibility on Fridays while Sunday being off strikes a balance between the Friday afternoon prayer times as well as the closed markets globally.”

Updated: December 08, 2021, 11:38 AM