In Algeria, T.G.I. <nobr>. . .</nobr> Wednesday?

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2006

In Algeria, T.G.I. <nobr>. . .</nobr> Wednesday?

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The Netherlands waded right into the debate over cultural assimilation in Europe today. The Dutch government announced plans to ban the burqa. That’s the full-body covering some Muslim women wear. The news broke on a day that’s usually part of the weekend in Muslim countries. Taking Fridays and Saturdays off is more than just time to relax and get away from the office. In some countries its become a way to keep a check on western influence. Algeria’s one of those places. It used to have a Saturday-Sunday weekend. But Algerians threw out that tradition in the 1970’s, right after they threw out French colonists. Sarah Richards reports some are beginning to wonder if it makes much economic sense.

SARAH RICHARDS: Thousands of people have converged here in the Saharan mountains to celebrate their tribal saint.

A group of men are firing rifles, reenacting wars fought on horseback. They’ve been here all weekend. That’s not a bad thing. Except for the fact that today, you, along with most of the world, worked. And these guys didn’t. So if you happened to have sent them an e-mail, chances are you didn’t hear back from them.

ABDELKADER TAÏEB-EZZRAIMI [translator]: My opinion, and those of all entrepreneurs in this region and the club, is that we’d like to go back to Saturdays and Sundays.

Abdelkader Taïeb-Ezzramaimi is the president of the Industrial Entrepreneurs Club of Mitidja. It’s a region famous for its wine production and agriculture. It’s where Orangina, the orange drink in that funny little bottle, was invented.

TAÏEB-EZZRAIMI [translator]: All our industries have relations abroad. We’re dependent on certain products, primary materials and technologies. And on Thursday nobody works. Same on Friday. On Saturday, we work but none of our suppliers do. So we have to wait until Monday. And there are real losses in time and in money.

Those losses are due to the fact that we have only three workdays in common with Algeria. That’s why in September the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain joined a growing number of Arab countries that changed their weekend to Friday and Saturday. But things are more complicated in Algeria. The country has just emerged from one of the worst civil wars the world has ever ignored.

Chekate Kamel is pouring cups of mint tea. He hosts a weekly TV show on Islam. He’s holding the pot high above the cup. It’s a tradition here to pour that way. Kamel worries that just as people don’t want that to change, some Muslims don’t want their weekend pushed back.

CHEKATE KAMEL [translator]: If the parties really want to change the weekend — and give plausible, rational reasons — fine. But if they change our weekend, and it’s accompanied with measures that would make it no longer easy to attend Friday prayer, it would be like putting a grenade with the pin pulled into someone’s hand. You’re waiting for the explosion.

No one is sure how Algeria’s most devout Muslims would react to changing the weekend. Economist Saib Musette says the government is going to have to win over the public first.

SAIB MUSETTE [translator]: We need a public discussion to show, let’s say, the economic losses due to the current practice. Practically 70 percent of our economy depends on foreign markets.

But the Algerian government has plenty of money right now, thanks to its natural gas and oil industries. So until the government is willing to take the political risk of making the switch, Algerians will continue to deal with the complications. For Kamel, that means hosting the same TV show on Islam twice a week.

KAMEL [translator]: On Thursday, I’m talking essentially to Algerians. On Saturdays, I’m addressing essentially the Muslims living in the West. I had to adapt, yes. I split myself in two to make everyone happy.

In Algeria, I’m Sarah Richards for Marketplace.

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