Riyadh: Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud changed the kingdom’s official work week to Sunday through Thursday, citing “lost economic opportunities” from being out of synch with the rest of the world on the Saudi weekend.

The switch from Saudi Arabia’s Saturday-to-Wednesday work week, and Thursday-Friday weekend, was announced on Sunday in a royal decree carried on state print and broadcast media. The change overrides years of objections from religious conservatives that Saudi Arabia, home of the most important two sites of Islam, should keep a weekend distinct from that of the West.

“We will be copying the Jews and the Christians,” prominent Saudi businessman Abdul Rahman Al Jeraisy said in 2007, when the king’s Shura advisory council considered the change.

The Saudi stock exchange, Saudi central bank, and other financial institutions and government ministries will move to a Friday and Saturday weekend starting on June 29, the royal decree said.

Schools would make the change with the start of the new academic year, the king said.

Bringing the kingdom’s weekend in line with the rest of the world would “achieve significant gains for the kingdom, particularly in the economic arena,” the decree said.

Friday is the main day of prayer for Muslims. With Sunday’s change, Saudi Arabia, following Oman, becomes the last country in the Gulf Cooperation Council to abandon a Thursday-Friday weekend.

The kingdom has toyed with a Friday-Saturday weekend at least since 2007. The Shura Council tabled the change that year, in the face of religious objections.

The Shura Council took the matter up for study again earlier this year, however. Observers said that signalled a royal will to make the change.

Saudi newspapers have cited informal polls showing a majority of ordinary Saudis and businesspeople support ditching the Thursday-Friday weekend on the grounds of lost productivity.

Savola Group, a Saudi Arabia food and drink company, announced last week it would begin trialling the Sunday-Thursday weekend internally.