Lebanon woke up to a time zone crisis on Sunday, as a row over daylight savings time further exposed religious divides and deep-rooted governance failure in the country over a decision to extend winter time for a month.
The Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati recently issued a decision on Thursday to push the clocks forward an hour on April 20th instead of following the usual practice of entering daylight savings time on the last weekend of March, a move which was met with controversy and criticism.
While no explanation was given for this decision, it is believed that it was intended to benefit Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan by allowing them to break their fasts an hour earlier, at around 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
However, some Muslims voiced their opposition to the change and underscored that fasting should commence at dawn and break at sunset, irrespective of the time zone.
Lebanon’s Maronite church announced on Saturday that it would defy the decision, citing a lack of consultation with other actors and consideration of international standards. The church claimed that it would be turning its clocks forward on Saturday night, along with other Christian organizations, parties, and schools.
In contrast, Muslim institutions and parties appeared set to remain in winter time, further deepening the divides in a country that has a long history of sectarian tensions. It is worth noting that Lebanon’s parliament seats are allocated by religious sect, and the country was torn apart by a civil war between Christian and Muslim factions from 1975 to 1990.
As the controversy continued to escalate, various businesses and media organizations announced their plans, with some defying Mikati’s decision while others sought to adjust their schedules accordingly. For instance, two of Lebanon’s news channels, LBCI and MTV, announced their decision to enter daylight savings time on Saturday night, as calls for disobedience gained steam.
In a statement, LBCI argued that Mikati’s decision would have harmed its work, adding that Lebanon is “not an island, and cannot afford to be out of step with international standards.”
In the meantime, Lebanon’s national carrier Middle East Airlines declared that its clocks and other devices would remain in winter time, in accordance with Mikati’s decision, but it would adjust its flight schedules to stay in line with international schedules.
Finally, the state-run telecoms duopoly sent messages to its customers advising them to set their device time manually on Sunday, in case the clocks had automatically gone forward.
Mikati announced the decision after a meeting on Thursday with Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who had repeatedly insisted on the change. His office stated that the decision was a “purely administrative procedure” that was being given “an obnoxious sectarian turn”.
The rift has given rise to quips and jokes about “Muslim time” and “Christian time,” while diverse internet search engines yielded different results in the early hours of Sunday morning when searching for the current time in Lebanon.
Gmt + 2 (check google for lebanon time) pic.twitter.com/fUfxL7Z5Rc
— Tania Hajj (@TaniaTweeter66) March 26, 2023
For many, the issue was viewed as a trivial distraction from Lebanon’s more pressing economic and political challenges.
The country is grappling with its most severe financial crisis in modern history, with 75% of the populace subsisting in destitution. Additionally, IMF officials recently cautioned that Lebanon could spiral into hyperinflation if corrective measures are not taken. Lebanon has been leaderless since late October, when the term of President Michel Aoun expired, with the parliament unable to elect a successor.
Source: Al-Manar English Website