Many Algerian employers are lobbying for a return of their country’s weekends over Saturdays and Sundays, rather than Thursdays and Fridays, saying the current policy is cutting into foreign trade revenues.
Algeria began observing its weekend from Thursday to Friday in 1976, in recognition of the fact that Friday is a holy day under Islam, the state religion of Algeria.
Certain Muslim fundamentalists in the country see no reason to alter this state of affairs, but some observers point out that the Algerian weekend is incompatible with weekends in the North African country’s major trading partners. With Algeria taking Thursdays and Fridays off while other states have their weekends over Saturdays and Sundays, several days are now periods of inactivity, they note.
“The fact that the customs service doesn’t work Thursday and Friday, and the banks Saturday, means there are at least three days of losses and stoppages in the various operations of trade transactions,” said government finance official Larbi Ould Ahmed. In addition, foreign crew members of ships docking in Algerian ports take their weekly break on Saturdays and Sundays.
“It’s absurd to continue to trade with foreign partners only three days a week. There’s no way we that we can get in tune with world competition on a three-day work week,” he said. “The present weekend is going to paralyse our economy, and this at a time that Algerian businesses have the difficult task of promoting … exports other than petroleum.”
Algeria is a major supplier of oil and gas, which constitute a key sector of the country’s economy.
Omar Ramdane, president of the Forum of Company Managers, holds the same view, telling journalists recently that the “weekend observed in Algeria since 1976 cuts the country off from world economic activity”.
Certain statistics appear to bear this out. “Even if there’s been no exhaustive study on the economic impact of the 1976 change from the universal weekend, some figures report $500-million to $750-million lost,” said Hacéne Amyar, an economics professor at Mouloud Mammeri University in the central town of Kabylie, in reference to annual foreign trade.
“This is huge for an economy which needs to conform to the fluid demands of the modern world, especially at a time of globalisation,” he said, noting that the statistics are based on the compensation Algerian authorities pay ships that arrive in port on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and are forced to remain idle during the local weekend.
He said the data is backed by experts at the World Bank, who think going back to weekends on Saturdays and Sundays could generate economic growth of 2%.
But Hafid Azzouz, a journalist at L’Expression — a daily based in the capital of Algiers — said Muslim fundamentalists currently in the government want to maintain the present weekend because of its conformity with Islam.
He noted that a number of Muslims consider that “Saturday is a rest day exclusively for the Jews and Sunday for the Christians”. But such an argument does not figure in government statements.
As a result, the debate on the national weekend “constitutes a taboo subject in our country and officials only speak of it rarely”, Azzouz said — noting, however, that civil society in Kabylie has fought against this trend by demanding a return to the universal weekend last year during an official meeting in Algiers.
The fundamentalists are represented in the government by the Movement of Society for Peace, which is part of the ruling coalition.
Amyar believes that there is a solution to this dilemma that speaks to the needs of both business people and the devout. “The majority of other Muslim countries have opted either for the universal weekend or an adjusted weekend [Friday and Saturday], which could easily be applied in our country without our economy losing its advantages,” he noted.
Djamila Loukal, a midwife at the Beni Douala Clinic in Kabylie, agrees. “Why does our country persist in this antiquated logic, keeping an outmoded weekend while other Muslim countries opt for modernity?” she asked. “It goes against our needs.” — IPS