After day of confusion, Lebanon reverses decision to delay daylight savings time

Prime Minister Najib Mikati says clocks will go forward by one hour overnight from Wednesday to Thursday

Salah Nasab, a Lebanese street vendor who also sells and repairs clocks, sits next of two clocks that show different times in Lebanon, in the southern port city of Sidon. AP
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Some of Lebanon's residents, caught between two time zones, struggled on Monday morning to attend school, make it to appointments or get to work on time.

Suddenly, entire families found themselves divided by time following a decision by Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to postpone daylight savings time by one month, which took effect on Sunday morning.

Since then, after number of institutions refused to apply the decision, Lebanon has operated under two time zones.

But by Monday afternoon, after a morning of turbulence, Mr Mikati reversed his decision to keep clocks back. Following a hastily called emergency cabinet meeting, it was decided that the logistical chaos caused by living under two simultaneous timings would end on Wednesday.

Clocks will go forward by one hour overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, Mr Mikati announced.

Upon hearing the news, Shady Hazem Bedda, a computer science student at the American University of Beirut, shrugged and threw his hands in the air to signify powerlessness.

“This is why people shouldn't play with time,” he told The National in frustration.

When Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister and head of Parliament — both Muslims — agreed last-minute to an exceptional month-long postponement of daylight savings, it seemed like a gesture of goodwill.

The decision coincided with the start of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and was seen as a concession to allow those observing the holiday to break their fasts at around 6pm rather than 7pm.

But the result was confusion, political displeasure, sectarian turbulence and logistical chaos. Churches, some private establishments and a number of media outlets refused to comply. The Minister of Justice denounced the measure, calling it illegal.

The education minister refused to comply with Mr Mikati's decision — then, on the same day, changed his mind.

Government institutions and public schools kept clocks back, while a number of private schools, churches, and media outlets advanced into summer time by one hour.

Lebanon's only international airport remained on government time, while its national carrier, Middle East Airlines, said all flights would be advanced by one hour, in line with daylight saving time.

The American University of Beirut, one of Lebanon's leading universities, was also caught in the fray. In a press statement released on Sunday evening, the educational institution announced it would abide by both time zones: summer time for classes, or one hour forward. Its medical centre, meanwhile, would remain on winter time — popularly referred to as government time or Muslim time — for the time being, “until our IT teams can reconfigure the systems to follow daylight savings hours”.

Mohammad Madarani, a student, 21, was stuck in between. Emerging from the American University of Beirut's Medical Centre (AUBMC), he told The National that he'd just made an appointment for Friday at 8.30am — or, as his phone had automatically jumped forward an hour, 9.30.

That confusion was the tip of the iceberg for him.

“My cousin” — who is on government time — “drove me to university today,” he explained. “I woke him up on my 7am. It was 6am for him. For him it was way too early. For me, it was late.”

Mr Madarani's sister and mother woke up an hour ahead of the rest of the household, he added, because most schools were still operating on the government-approved time. But to get to work on time his father advanced his clock to summer time.

Members of the Madarani household exist on different timelines.

But come evening, the family will be reunited.

“When the sun sets, we will all have our meal,” Mr Madarani said. “Maybe our clocks will have different times … but the sun will have set.”

Lama Berro, a substitute teacher and part-time AUB student, has remained on winter time.

“It's easier to operate on winter time for me as a Muslim, because I'm fasting. It means we work less and fast less,” she said.

Ms Berro acknowledged that the clock controversy had caused some minor issues, as her classes and work are on the other timezone, but, like many interviewed by The National said she'd already adapted to the time difference.

“We should invest in our time, instead of having conflicts over it,” she added.

A delicate sectarian balance

Lebanon has been without a president, a post assigned to a Maronite Christian, since November due to political disagreement. The timezone discrepancy has caused many to question the nature of the arbitrary decision, perceived by the country's Christian leadership as an exploitation of the presidential vacuum by two Muslim leaders.

The time difference immediately ignited heated political and sectarian arguments in the confessional country, where positions of power are delicately shared by Lebanon's 18 religious sects.

Ms Berro told The National she was sad to see time itself become so politicised.

“I wish that this hadn't happened,” she said, referring to the initial decision to postpone daylight savings. “It would have been so normal to establish the summer time and fast normally.”

“I wish everyone, Muslims and Christians, a Ramadan Kareem. Hopefully we can end this month peacefully, without any conflict.”

Updated: March 27, 2023, 5:17 PM