Will Iran Change Weekends to Friday and Saturday?
Iran’s private sector have commenced efforts to persuade governmental sectors to shift the country’s sporadic system of holidays into one more easily coordinated with global trade. On Monday, a member of the tourism committee of Tehran’s Chamber of Commerce told ILNA (Iran Labor News Agency) that the committee would submit a proposal to the administration in the Public-Private Dialogue Council to declare holidays on Fridays and Saturdays. According to Alireza Khaef, Iran is the only Islamic country with its weekends on Thursdays and Fridays, while many organizations and firms do work half-day into Thursdays, too.
Since world economy goes on weekend holidays on Saturday and Sundays and Iran does so on Thursdays and Fridays, a four-day hiatus makes Iran fall behind global markets. The private sector in Iran is set to minimize the gap. According to Alireza Khaef the private sector has been cautious enough to take into account the importance of Friday prayers in its proposal. Khaef believes that a two-day weekend would boost domestic tourism, as people will be more inclined to go traveling. The TCC tourism committee member said the chamber wants to start negotiations with the administration, Majlis and the seminary school of Qom, an influential clerical institution whose decision could either pave the way for the proposal or put an end to the plan. Khaef told ILNA the administration has shown a positive attitude toward the proposed plan. Now less than a week later, it seems that the debate has been elevated to higher levels. The chairman of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Mohsen Jalalpour, has also told reporters the same plan has been submitted to Majlis to be passed as law.
Iranians work an average of 44 hours a week, more than people do in all Asian countries or member states in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of the world’s most advanced economies. According to the Majlis’ Research Center, per capita productivity in the country is low in comparison with other countries. Many experts believe the low labor productivity is the Achilles’ hill of Iran’s economy.
On Saturday, Donya-e-Eghtesad, took a look at the plan. According to the Persian economic daily that is largest of its kind in circulation, there are twelve countries with a single-day weekend among 114 analyzed, while only three of them have declared Friday as their only official holiday.
Afghanistan was the last Islamic state with a similar weekend system, but it has shifted on to a Friday-Saturday plan recently. Drawing a comparison between Iran and Arab countries, Donya-e-Eghtesad says most Persian Gulf countries had a Thursday-Friday system before 2008. Since then, their leaders have decided to shift to a Friday-Saturday holiday system and they all did so within the following five years. According to the newspaper, international trade figures show that the shift has brought positive impacts. The daily quotes from Bloomberg that the adaptation of the new system provided Saudi Arabia’s economy with opportunities estimated to be worth $30b. The daily further argues that while Thursdays are nominal workdays, they have practically turned into semi-holidays which disconnect provincial administrations from corresponding executive headquarters in Tehran. Thursdays have been school off-days since Ahmadinejad’s second term as president while it has been traditionally a common additional weekend for many private sector organizations. Most governmental administrations as well as banks close two or three hours sooner on Thursdays. These, put together, have given rise to absences and leaves on Thursdays, too.
ICANA, the Iranian parliament’s news agency, has gathered a collection of remarks made by Iranian lawmakers discussing the plan. The tenth Majlis’ first deputy speaker, reformist Massoud Pezeshkian, has said the weekend shift will reduce loss in international economic transactions while the second deputy speaker, Ali Motahari, considers it not necessary. Motahhari, who maintains a strongly conservative view in cultural issues, has noted that Saturdays is the “Jews’ holiday” and it is not appropriate for Iran to have holidays on the same day. He further said macro-policies of this kind cannot be decided in the cabinet and should be submitted to Majlis in the form of a bill. Allahyar Malekshahi, another member of the parliament, sees the shift in the interest of the country while Principlist Ahmad Salek, who represents Isfahan in the Majlis, says the shift in weekend holidays will not be welcome by MPs. Ezaatollah Yousefian from the northern city of Amol says the discordance between weekends in Iran and the world has damaged Iran’s trade. Mohammad-Ghassim Osmani, the Sunni member of the parliament’s board of governors, says the shift cannot occur by the administration’s decision only.
The problem with Iran’s atypical holidays are also of a religious and cultural nature. Friday is the sole regular holiday while the other red-letter days are mainly religious observance holidays that rotate every year as their lunar calendar anniversaries are recognized in the country’s solar calendar. Iranians also pay weekly visits to the graves of their deceased on Thursday evenings.
Rouhani’s cabinet is being increasingly criticized over what has been labeled as its failure to address domestic issues. In the meantime, the country’s stagnated economy is in an urgent need to reconnect with global economy to boost foreign investment and export opportunities. Nonetheless, opposition policy-makers narrow interpretation of the Supreme Leader’s “resistance economy” and its appropriation into a pretext to lambast the administration is a serious obstacle against the administration’s intended reforms. That the so-called radical holiday shift is brought up at such levels indicates that Rouhani’s cabinet is seriously pursuing its to-do list and relatively successful in creating the consensus it needs to move ahead, despite all difficulties. However, there is a long way ahead of the plan before it becomes operational, as it seems to have to pass through Majlis and then the orthodox Guardian Council.