Muslim Or Christian Time? Lebanon Sees A Time Zone War Over Annual Clock Change 

With the Lebanese government announcing a last-minute decision to delay the clock change to start daylight savings time by a month, the country woke up to confusion and two time zones Sunday. The decision has resulted in a dispute between political and religious authorities in the Mediterranean nation that saw a civil war between Christian and Muslim factions from 1975 to 1990, international media reported.

Every year, Lebanon sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday of March, aligning with most countries in Europe. However, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced Thursday that daylight savings time will not be started over the last weekend of March, and clocks will be rolled forward an hour on April 20, instead.

News agencies Reuters and Associated Press reported when the PM announced his decision to push the clock change to April 21, he did not give any reason for it. However, with the clock change delayed by a month, which will coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, it is being seen as a decision taken to allow the Muslim population observing Ramadan to break their daylong fast at around 6 pm rather than 7 pm.

Confusion And Divide In Lebanon

While the country’s Muslim institutions and parties appeared set to not change the clock, Maronite church, the influential and largest Christian church in Lebanon, said it would not abide by the government’s decision because there had been no consultations on this, and turned its clocks forward, the Reuters report said. Other Christian organisations and parties also announced similar plans. Schools too are not going with the government decision, with Education Minister Abbas Halabi saying on Sunday all schools would start daylight savings time, the report added.

“Lebanon is not an island,” Lebanon’s main news channel LBCI was quoted as saying in a statement as they announced they would also enter daylight savings time. Similar decisions were announced by another major news channel MTV, besides other businesses, the report said.

Those who decided to toe the government line included Lebanon’s national carrier Middle East Airlines, which said they would continue with winter time but adjust flight times to maintain international schedules.

With the decision deepening divides in a country already facing economic and political crises, residents were quoted as saying that the chaos reflected the failed governance by leaders.

“They create problems to deepen the division between Muslims and Christians … those in power are the ones benefiting from peoples’ disputes,” Beirut resident Mohamed al-Arab was quoted as saying in the Reuters report.

Residents are utterly confused. Soha Yazbek, a professor at the American University of Beirut, tweeted: “So now I drop my kids to school at 8 am but arrive to my work 42 km away at 7:30 am and then I leave work at 5 pm but I arrive home an hour later at 7 pm!!”

Quoting a Japanese NGO worker in Beirut, Haruka Naito, the AP report said she discovered she had to be at two places on Monday morning at the same time. “I had an 8 a.m. appointment and a 9 a.m. class, which will now happen at the same time,” she told the news agency. 

What The Lebanon Govt Is Saying On Delaying Changing Clock

With PM Mikati’s Thursday announcement to remain in winter time creating a divide in the country, his office said Saturday night the decision was a “purely administrative procedure”, but that it was being given “an obnoxious sectarian turn”, the Reuters report said.

The decision was objected to by the PM’s own cabinet too, with caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury, who is a Christian, issuing a statement late Saturday, asking Mikati to reverse it. He said the decision “violated the principle of legitimacy” as he acknowledged that it had split the Lebanese society along religious lines, the report said.

According to an AP report, Minister Halabi said in a statement Sunday evening the decision was not taken in a Cabinet meeting and was hence not legally valid.

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