The United Arab Emirates is slashing its working week to four-and-a-half days and moving its weekend from Fridays and Saturdays to Saturdays and Sundays, in a move aimed at better aligning its economy with global markets. The oil-producing Gulf state, the region’s commercial, trade and tourism hub, currently has a Friday-Saturday weekend. As of Jan. 1, 2022, the new weekend would start on Friday afternoon. The UAE has in the past year taken measures to make its economy more attractive to foreign investment and talent at a time of growing economic rivalry with neighboring Saudi Arabia. A government statement said the move would “ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday-Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of UAE-based and multinational companies.” Friday is a weekly holiday in many predominantly Muslim countries. The statement said that under the new work week for government entities, Friday working hours would end at 12 noon, ahead of Friday sermons and prayers. There was no immediate reaction from other Mideast countries to the announcement. The statement said the extended weekend comes as part of UAE’s efforts to boost work-life balance. The government shift likely will see the private industry to follow suit, as it did in 2006, when the workweek changed from Saturday to Wednesday, an Islamic workweek followed in some Muslim countries, such as Iran and Afghanistan. State-linked Emirati newspaper The National said all schools will move to the same working week on the first day of next year’s term. The UAE, the region’s premier trade and finance hub, faces new challenges as Saudi Arabia ramps up its efforts to lure foreign firms and investors as it seeks to wean itself off dependence on oil. The Kingdom has told all multinational firms they must move to their regional headquarters to Riyadh or risk losing lucrative state contracts by 2024 stirring tensions with Dubai that long has enticed foreigners with special economic zones, quality schools, ritzy penthouses and a dizzying array of bars and restaurants. The UAE has also liberalized laws regarding cohabitation before marriage, alcohol and personal status laws in addition to introducing longer-term visas as a way to attract and retain talent and encourage more businesses to set up shop.