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Saudi businesses to remain open during prayer times

People follow social distancing markings as they line up at a shopping mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
People follow social distancing markings as they line up at a shopping mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)

MOHAMMED AL-KINANI

JEDDAH: For decades, commercial businesses in Saudi Arabia have shut their doors as soon as the first call of prayer is heard. Cars would queue up waiting for petrol stations to open, while patrons and customers at pharmacies, restaurants, and supermarkets would have to wait outside.
Those days of inconvenience are now over.

The Kingdom will allow shops to remain open during prayer times, according to a circular issued by the head of the Saudi Chambers on Friday.
“This is in an effort to improve the shopping experience and the level of services for shoppers and clients,” Ajlan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Ajlan, head of the Saudi Chambers, said in his circular to all members of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Commenting on the decision, Ali Sameer Shihabi, an author and commentator on Middle East politics and economics, with a focus on Saudi Arabia, tweeted that keeping shops open during prayer time is another “hugely symbolic and practical step to end the dominance of the religious class in daily life.”

Shihabi also said closing for prayers was an excuse for people to take long breaks or make customers wait for goods and services.

“Even at government departments, it added a huge margin of inefficiency to output in the Kingdom,” he said.

Habibullah Al-Torkistani, an economist, told Arab News the decision would have no effect on the national economy.

What supports my opinion is that workers in shops take a midday break,” he said. “Even when allowing shops to operate during prayer time, shops will stop working to give workers a break. This is a part of the workers’ rights.”

Al-Torkistani added that outlets that sell necessary items, such as stores on highways, can possibly benefit from the decision.

“Employees decide when to stop working to perform their religious duties and no one can prevent them,” he said.

The debate to keep shops and businesses open during prayer times has been a topic of discussion in many settings amongst members of Saudi society for a long time.

Prior to the recent reforms, violations were regulated by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as Haia, or the religious police. Officers of the commission had the power to arrest and punish shopkeepers for even delaying the closure of their stores for a few minutes. Punishments ranged from detention to deportation for expatriate shop attendants.

Source: ArabNews

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