Daylight savings dispute leaves Lebanon with two time zones


The Lebanese government's last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight savings time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in mass confusion Sunday.

With some institutions implementing the change while others refused, many Lebanese have found themselves in the position of juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — in the same tiny country.

In some cases, the debate took on a sectarian nature, with many Christian politicians and institutions, including the small nation's largest church, the Maronite Church, rejecting the move.

The small Mediterranean country normally sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March, which aligns with most European countries.

However, on Thursday Lebanon's government announced a decision by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to push the start of daylight savings to April 21.

No reason was given for the decision, but a video of a meeting between Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri leaked to local media showed Berri asking Mikati to postpone the implementation of daylight savings time to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier.

Mikati responds that he had made a similar proposal but goes on to say that implementing the change would be difficult as it would cause problems in airline flight schedules, to which Berri interjects, "What flights?"

After the postponement of daylight savings was announced, Lebanon's state airline, Middle East Airlines, said the departure times of all flights scheduled to leave from the Beirut airport between Sunday and April 21 would be advanced by an hour.

The country's two cellular telephone networks sent messages to people asking them to change the settings of their clocks to manual instead of automatic in order for the time not to change at midnight, although in many cases the time advanced anyway.

While public institutions, in theory, are bound by the government's decision, many private institutions, including TV stations, schools and businesses, announced that they would ignore the decision and move to daylight savings on Sunday as previously scheduled.

"Had the government taken the decision a month ago, and not 48 hours in advance, then there wouldn't have been a problem," said Pierre Daher, CEO of Lebanese broadcaster LBCI.

The channel had said in a statement it would defy the government's decision as the delay would affect its operations.

Three other Lebanese networks also moved clocks forward.

But Daher said his concerns went beyond programming.

"The worst thing is that the decision on when to begin summer time took a sectarian turn," he told AFP.

Lebanon's powerful Maronite Church said it would not abide by the government decision which had been taken "without consultations and without any regard for international standards."

"A decision like this should have been announced a year earlier to avoid harming people's lives," church spokesman Walid Ghayyad told AFP. "It cannot be made over a cup of coffee."

The church's move was to prevent "further isolating Lebanon," he said.

Two prominent Christian political parties -- the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces -- have called on the government to reverse its decision. FPM chief Jebran Bassil tweeted: "Do not change your clocks, they will move forward automatically." On many phones and other electronic devices, they did.

Caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury has backed calls for Mikati to go back on the decision, which would have "catastrophic" consequences for an economy in free fall since 2019.

"The decision has created confusion and caused divisions and disturbances among religious authorities, private media and education institutions," Khoury said in a statement.

Many schools, mostly Christian, went into daylight savings time, but some other institutions have complied with the government.

Haruka Naito, a Japanese non-governmental organization worker living in Beirut, discovered she has to be in two places at the same time on Monday morning.

"I had an 8 a.m. appointment and a 9 a.m. class, which will now happen at the same time," she said. The 8 a.m. appointment for her residency paperwork is with a government agency following the official time, while her 9 a.m. Arabic class is with an institute that is expected to make the switch to daylight savings.

The schism has led to jokes about "Muslim time" and "Christian time," while different internet search engines came up with different results early Sunday morning when queried about the current time in Lebanon.

While in many cases, the schism broke down along sectarian lines, some Muslims also objected to the change and pointed out that fasting is supposed to begin at dawn and end at sunset regardless of time zone.

On Twitter, one user said: "Will our children read in history books that the civil war started in Lebanon in 2023 just because the clock wasn't moved forward?"

Many saw the issue as a distraction from the country's larger economic and political problems.

Lebanon is in the midst of the worst financial crisis in its modern history. Three quarters of the population lives in poverty and IMF officials recently warned the country could be headed for hyperinflation if no action is taken. Lebanon has been without a president since the term of President Michel Aoun ended in late October as the parliament has failed to elect a replacement since.

Comments 2
Thumb SheikYerbouti 26 March 2023, 17:22

By fasting during Ramada an individual demonstrates the strength of his/her faith, one extra hour shouldn't be an issue for the truly faithful and true believers. This obviously disqualifies the likes Berri and Mikati who do it for show. The simple solution would have been to just stop changing the clock as many other countries do. This is nothing but grandstanding by Berri, recording his exchange with the PM for extra impact. As for Mikati, by doing this he hopes that people forget about his underhanded airport terminal two deal and gain him some brownie points with the Sunni community. The reaction of us, the Lebanese masses, is the as they expected. A sectarian Pavlovian Conditioning one unfortunately.

Thumb 26 March 2023, 19:21

My sibling said to me Yesterday this last-minute daylight saving decision is just to show who's got the power and to demonstrate they can keep ruining our lives. It has nothing to do with Ramadan or Religion since both Miqati and Berri are anything but good Muslims, they're heading to eternal damnation.