By Emmanuel Nduka
Employees and schoolchildren in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) juggled work and studies with weekly Muslim prayers on the first-ever working Friday, as the Gulf country formally switched to a Saturday-Sunday weekend.
While some grumbled at the change, others moved on with the Western-style weekend.
Other private firms stuck with Fridays and Saturdays, as in other Gulf states.
The weekly day of prayer has always been a free day in the UAE, which had previously observed a Thursday-Friday weekend until 2006.
However, mosques appeared busy as worshippers carrying prayer mats arrived as usual before many of them later headed back to the office.
“I’d rather take (Friday) off,” said 22-year-old Briton Rachel King, who works in the hospitality industry and has been living in Dubai for six months.
“That is what we all know and love, having a Friday off and going to certain places that are open and we could do things. But now it is going to be Saturday,” he added.
The UAE made the surprise announcement of the weekend switch for the public sector in December last year, as it grapples with rising competition in international business from other Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.
The new routine would see Government bodies and schools operate four-and-a-half days per week, closing at 12 pm on Fridays for a fixed prayer time of 1:15 pm, whereas the Muslim prayer schedule usually depends on the position of the sun.
Out of 195 businesses polled by human resources consultancy Mercer, only 23 percent were preparing to follow the four-and-a-half-day week, but more than half would switch to Saturday-Sunday weekends.
“Luckily I have the same days off as my kids, but that’s not the case for my husband,” said Fati, who works in an international distribution company, asking not to give her full name.
“He works for a multinational that hasn’t changed its schedule for the moment. I hope they will do it quickly, otherwise, our family life will be ruined,” he said.