In a bid to boost sales, Saudi Arabia recently approved a new measure that gives shops the option to stay open 24 hours a day. But, there's a catch.
The shops would still be obliged to close during Muslim prayers, as per a Saudi law that states malls, restaurants, cafés, gas stations, and even hospitals must close during the call for adhan (Islamic prayer) and throughout prayer time as well.
Saudi Arabia's Cabinet announced the new measure on Tuesday via the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Previous media reports falsely claimed that the new measure puts an end to the mandatory closure during prayer times. However, in the state-run report, there is no explicit mention of it. Had the law been repealed, it would have been addressed with much more volume.
For businesses who wish to operate around the clock, a fee must be paid to do so. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs will decide on the fees, according to AP.
On Tuesday night, Bloomberg published a report based on a tweet posted by Saudi-owned television channel Al-Arabiya which reportedly stated that shops would now be allowed to stay open during prayers. However, Al-Arabiya soon deleted the post and shared a follow-up tweet in which a spokesperson can be heard rejecting the claims.
The cabinet decision "doesn't include carrying out commercial activities during prayers and it doesn't touch any previous decision related to prayer times," said Khalid Al-Dughaither, a deputy at the ministry, reported Bloomberg.
Even though the rule has long been applied in the kingdom, many locals have demanded authorities reconsider the law.
One Saudi lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al Lahem, voiced his opinion in a video interview shared last year.
"There is no religious edict stating that shops must close at prayer times, this is a law that's only in effect because the kingdom's religious police enforce it on people," he said.
According to Bloomberg, a government document published last year had called for an end to mandatory prayer closures, but was removed in a later version.
Saudi Gazette cited economists who believe the decision meets several needs. First, it enhances life during nighttime as well as accommodates people when the bolstering sun is in hiding - something necessary during the summer in the Gulf nation.
The new measure also seeks to boost operations for private sector businesses. Over the years, Saudi Arabia has been putting more effort into enhancing operations for the private sector. In April, the kingdom revealed its plan to create more than half a million private-sector jobs by 2030. Let's see how many current and new businesses will choose to keep their operations running 24/7 following the newly announced decision.