From January 1, the "national working week" will be mandatory for government agencies, breaking with the regional norm of a full day off on Friday for Muslim prayers.

The United Arab Emirates is shortening its official working week to four and a half days and relocating its weekend to Saturday and Sunday in a major shift aimed at improving competitiveness, officials announced on Tuesday.

While becoming the only Gulf country without a Friday-Saturday weekend, the resource-rich and ambitious UAE has now caught up with the rest of the world.

According to the new schedule, the public-sector weekend begins at noon on Fridays and ends on Sunday. All year, Friday prayers at mosques will begin after 1:15 p.m.

According to state news agency WAM, the new working week is the shortest in the world in order to "better align the UAE with global markets."

"The UAE is the first country in the world to implement a national working week that is shorter than the global five-day week," WAM said.

The long-rumored Western-style weekend was announced less than a week after the former British protectorate celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Until 2006, the UAE had a Thursday-Friday weekend, but in 2006, it switched to Fridays and Saturdays, with the private sector following suit.

"The extended weekend is part of the UAE government's efforts to improve work-life balance and social wellbeing while increasing performance to advance the UAE's economic competitiveness," according to the WAM report.

"From an economic standpoint, the new working week will better align the UAE with global markets, reflecting the country's strategic status on the global economic map," the statement continued.

"It will facilitate stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of UAE-based and multinational companies by ensuring smooth financial, trade, and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend."

The new agreement is yet another bold step for the UAE, which defied decades of Arab consensus by normalizing relations with Israel last year, opening the door to hundreds of millions of dollars in deals.

It was widely praised on social media, where the topic was trending, and the official WAM tweets were widely retweeted.

"Although I've grown accustomed to the Friday-Saturday weekend after all these years, I'm delighted to see this change," one Twitter user said.

"UAE made an excellent decision. It accomplishes more than one goal. The weekend now corresponds to the rest of the world "another tweet.

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