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A new Saudi weekend? Why weren’t we consulted?

Badria al-Bishr

Published: Updated:

The feelings of those who are annoyed by change, even if it provides a solution, are almost similar to that joke about the Egyptian Saidi who got lost in the desert with a Briton and an American. The three of them found Aladdin’s lamp so they rubbed it and the genie who grants wishes appeared. Naturally, the American wished to get out of the desert and return to his parents. The Briton’s wish was the same. The Saidi found himself alone in the desert so he requested the genie to bring back the Briton and the American so he doesn’t have to stay alone.

Change annoys many people who are used to calmness, even if this change carries a new opportunity for progress. People love what they get used to. This is why the decision to change the Saudi weekend from Thursday and Friday to Friday and Saturday sparked funny reactions on Twitter and WhatsApp. Some made jokes about it and others religiously preached about it, protesting that the counseling factor was not present when taking this decision that concerns Muslims. The most extremist of opinions on the decision was stating that it was is an imitation of the blatantly infidel West.

Economic factors

It is a decision that took into consideration the economic loss resulting from not keeping up with the timing of the global financial markets, like banks and the stock market, so Thursday as a day off was replaced with Saturday, and Friday, the Muslims’ holy day, remained a day off. But this carried some mysterious annoyance expressed in some jokes. One person asked the question: “Does this mean that we pray Friday prayers on Saturday?” Another wondered about the extent of loss that people who signed yearly rent leases stating Thursday is a day off in rest houses will suffer from. This joke is Saudi par excellence and no one will understand it because, until today, no one has done something like this. Such rent leases emerged due to our extreme need to rest. Rest houses are villas with a big yard located on the city’s extremities. The owners of these rest houses invented a daily rental system in which you can rent the house for one day a week and the rest house is yours for this day only, but throughout the entire year. Families or young men can gather in this rest house away from restrictions at their homes and away from children breaking expensive furniture and away from the supervision of wives who scold their husbands for staying up late at night playing cards.

Those who love change, felt happy. Since nothing is developing, at least the weekend has developed.

Dr. Badria al-Bishr

So, Saturday became a weekend. Thus, I have been harmed. I write my columns in the daily on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. According to the old timing, it’s as if I am now writing on Tuesday and Friday. Do I have the right to object to this decision? I should wait to know the size of the loss. I also have a book called “Wednesday night” in which I meant the last day of the week. Do I change it to “Thursday night?”

How can you understand that huge decisions linked to markets’ interests can indeed affect you and cause you a loss and thus make you desire to rebel against them or criticize them? Does the issue really cause a great amount of loss and is it really worthy of discussion? This does not equal the attempt to create chaos and cast suspicions regarding the decision’s legitimacy, since it’s an imitation of the infidels some demand that the decision be put before the Muslims’ council. But those who call for such measures have forgotten that a big number of Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sham, Morocco and the rest of Gulf countries also have Friday, Saturday as the weekend. The state of serenity in which society lived is what makes a small decision, that does not really obstruct our interests, so controversial.

Trusting the government

There is mixed criticism towards corruption cases that the media succeeds in revealing and spreading, but not resolving these cases weakens the trust that the decisions made by the government are in our interest. Some of these corruption cases are the notaries’ forgery of deeds worth millions, medical mistakes resulting from weak supervision and some officials’ exploitation of their positions to make personal profit. Add to that the weakness in resolving unemployment, accommodation and traffic problems. All of these make the decision to change the weekend an occasion to criticize, cast doubts, vent and question its usefulness.

Those who love change, however, felt happy. Since nothing is developing, at least the weekend has developed. Truly speaking, the weekend has developed. But the more important change is to catch up with the world. This does not only come through having our markets adapt with the timing of global financial markets. But our education, medical services, traffic, courts and security apparatuses must also develop.

Catching up with change and accepting the facts of the new era are not an option but a necessity. Developing is not something which is submissive to the council of individuals who are annoyed by change and who protest saying: “Why didn’t you consult us?” The state, in its expanded context, does not reflect individuals’ desires in development. It’s the work of institutions led by specialists. We cannot think with the mentality of yesterday’s town, with its small number of people that didn’t exceed a few thousand. It is no longer viable to think that a decision that benefits people depends on the agreement of all parties. This is why a decision, like changing the weekend, requires a supreme command to go into effect.

This article was first published in Al-Hayat on June 26, 2013.

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Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.

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