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Saudi Arabia shifts to Western calendar

Time for a change: Saudi Arabia is to use the Western calendar for all purposes except in Islamic contexts Unsplash/Haidan
Time for a change: Saudi Arabia is to use the Western calendar for all purposes except in Islamic contexts
  • Islamic calendar for religious occasions
  • Change could lead to Saturday/Sunday weekend
  • Switch comes after reforms to boost GDP

Saudi Arabia is to shift towards using the Gregorian calendar in all official transactions, reserving the Islamic system only for religious occasions, the cabinet said this week, in a move that could presage aligning the weekend with international norms. 

A statement was issued on October 31 after a cabinet meeting chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has led social and economic reforms to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil. 

The reforms have included increasing the presence of women in the workforce and public space, including allowing them to drive, and rolling back the influence of clerics, who used to enforce the closure of shops during daily prayer times. 

Last year the United Arab Emirates moved its weekend away from the traditional Friday and Saturday, which includes the Islamic day of rest on Friday, for Saturday and Sunday in a bid to improve business productivity. 

Until a royal decree in 2013, the weekend in Saudi Arabia was Thursday and Friday.

Within the Gulf, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait also use the Friday-Saturday weekend.

The calendar change comes after Saudi Arabia has pushed through diverse reforms to increase GDP, including developing its stock market, tourism, sports, mortgage lending, and insurance industry. 

Economic rivalry between the UAE and Saudi Arabia has ramped up since Riyadh set a deadline of January 2024 for international companies based in the region to move their regional headquarters to Saudi Arabia. Many are based in the UAE. 

Saudi newspapers have begun discussing the issue in what some said on social media is an effort to prepare the public for changing to the Western formula. 

One Western economist based in Riyadh said: “It’s something they’re going to have to do sooner or later. Currently, they’re losing out on a day’s business with the rest of the world.” 

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