Today it has been exactly one year since Algeria has switched the weekend from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday. So now we are like most of the Arab countries (to my knowledge only Tunisia and Morocco with Saturday-Sunday and KSA with Thursday-Friday are different).
Following our independence Algeria inherited, among many other things, the Saturday-Sunday weekend from the colonial era; and it was only in 1976 that Boumediene decided to switch to Thursday-Friday. I don’t know exactly why he did it, but I am guessing it was a way to affirm Algeria’s difference with the West. Algeria was then one of the Non-Aligned Movement‘s leaders and such a symbolic decision had its meaning. I also think it was somewhat related to the oil crisis. Some say it was a concession he made to the Islamists inside the FLN. Anyway, I would be glad to find out about the real reasons so if anyone has an idea, please do share it.
Later on, many voices raised to call for the adoption of the universal weekend, and many others opposed them. And every year we heard rumours about this switching and every time they were just rumours until last year.
The most serious ones to call for the change were the Algerian businessmen. The FCE organised many conferences/debates and explained that our weekend caused many losses to the Algerian economy which they estimated to around $700 million/year. Another estimation, coming from the World Bank’s IFC, amounted to $1 billion/year and 1.2% lost yearly growth. Companies such as Arcelor-Mittal Algeria, Djezzy, Nedjma and NCA Rouiba had already switched to a Friday-Saturday weekend before the new law (it wasn’t illegal because the Algerian law only stated that Friday should be off). The Economic and Social Council and the state-controlled labour union, the UGTA, also wanted us to switch to the universal weekend.
Democrat parties as they are called in Algeria advocated for this change and they brought it up at every occasion. They of course mentioned the economic aspect and compared us to Tunisia and Morocco, but I have the feeling that, to some of them, it was just another step towards the westernisation of Algeria. They seem to think the Thursday-Friday (Islamic as they say) weekend just gets us backward, exactly like do Arabic and Islam. Even Belaid Abrika of the CADC happily declared in 2005 that he agreed with prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia to switch to the universal weekend. What the heck!
But there were some who openly advocated for the universal weekend (Friday being a worked day) because, they said, the Islamists used the Friday prayers to preach Salafism and political Islam and what not, so their goal was clearly to prevent the population from attending the Friday prayers or at least making sure they spend a minimum time in the mosques.
Opposing them were the Islamist parties who believe it’s their role to defend Islam and Arabic. A preposterous belief if you ask me, but well the place is left free and they took it. So these parties also called the Thursday-Friday weekend Islamic and pictured any change as a heresy. They neglected the fact that God didn’t say we should relax on Fridays and Thursdays. He actually said that we should go back to our work after the Friday prayer was over.
Conservative (nationalist) parties and the MSP (Islamist party member of the Presidential Alliance) said they were ready to debate and all they cared for was Friday. So basically they were open to a Friday-Saturday weekend.
We see that ideology was behind Boumediene’s decision. And he didn’t even bother consult the population regarding this major change in the society. I have no problems with some decisions made on an ideological basis. Algeria does indeed support Palestine no matter what, and so it does for Western Sahara (some say Algeria does it only because Morocco is occupying the land but who cares), and I share these two positions even though I am aware we could do a lot better should we decide to follow the trend and become friends with Israel and forget about the colonised people. But, regarding the weekend decision, I think Boumediene should have consulted the population and tried to convince them of his reasons. At least he wasn’t totally blind as he allowed the banks and financial institutions to work on a Friday-Saturday weekend basis, and he assumed it was all because of the ideology.
On the other hand, last year’s decision had some ideology behind it but nobody really assumed it and everybody displayed it as a pragmatic one. They hid behind the economic argument and let the businessmen support it alone. And the decision has also been taken without consulting the population or their “representatives” in the national assembly.
Now that it has been one whole year since the new weekend’s implementation, what gain did we get? I remember the confusion on the first days with people not knowing when they had to work and when they were to stay at home. Then everyone got used to it. I found it quite disappointing, yet expected, that no newspaper (at least those I checked) has mentioned it today. Even those who hailed a victory on obscurantism last year have apparently forgot about it. Only the Algerian TV mentioned it and illustrated the great benefits of this decision with two examples: the banks can now work with the locals on Saturdays (but back in the time they were saying Saturdays were useful only in international transactions), and the Algiers port which is now able to discharge more imported containers (but they said they’ve always worked 24h/day so this improvement must come from somewhere else). And that’s all about it. No figures on how the Algerian growth rate has evolved and no news of the billion dollars we lost every year. It’s just impossible for us to know how the switch has improved our economy, exactly like we had no evidence on how the old weekend was destroying it.
And since we lack these figures, I still don’t have the answers to my questions. What did this new weekend bring to our economy? Did it reduce the oil exports (oil exports know no weekends) share in our economy? Did it reduce the amount of imported goods? Did it cancel the bad effects of the various scandals we’ve known of recently? Did it cancel the negative effects of the Algerian bureaucracy? Did it reduce poverty in Algeria (they’ve already distributed over a million mills for poor people after two Ramadahn days)? How does the bad effect of the old weekend compare to the issues of our archaic banking system? How does it compare to the tax leakage amount? How does it compare to all the time wasted by employees who are not serious at work?
I wonder if Bouteflika will question his ministers about this during his Ramadhan hearings.
This weekend story is just one example on how many decisions are made in Algeria. No preliminary study on the present status, decision made without any consultation, and then no control of the positive or negative outcomes of the new decision.
Update (15/08/2010): El Fadjr has finally mentioned it today but the guy they interviewed only gave qualitative information and the only figure he gave is a productivity increase of at least 20%. Wonderful.