The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay daylight saving time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan caused widespread confusion.
BEIRUT – The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay daylight saving time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan caused widespread confusion on Sunday.
As some companies implemented the change and others refused, many Lebanese found themselves juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — a country that is just 88 kilometers (55 miles) apart at its widest point.
In some cases, the debate took on a sectarian character, with many Christian politicians and institutions rejecting the move, including the small nation’s largest church, the Maronite Church.
The small Mediterranean country usually sets its clocks forward one hour on the last Sunday in March, in line with most European countries.
However, the Lebanese government on Thursday announced interim Prime Minister Najib Mikadi’s decision to postpone 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 Perry was leaked to local media, in which Perry asked Mikati to postpone the implementation of daylight saving time and allow Muslims to observe their Ramadan fast an hour earlier.
Mikati replies that he has proposed a similar plan, but says the change would be difficult to implement because it would cause problems with airline schedules, to which Perry interjects, “What flights?”
After the daylight savings postponement was announced, Lebanon’s state carrier, Middle East Airlines, said that all flights scheduled to leave Beirut airport between Sunday and April 21 would advance their departure times by one hour.
The country’s two cellular phone networks sent messages to people to change the settings of their clocks to manual instead of automatic to keep the time unchanged at midnight, although in many cases the time went forward anyway.
While public companies are, in theory, bound by the government’s decision, many private companies, including television stations, schools and businesses, have ignored the decision and announced they will switch to Sunday daylight saving as previously planned.
Soha Yasbek, a professor at the American University of Beirut, is one of many parents who have forced themselves and their children to different schedules.
Haruka Naido, a Japanese NGO worker living in Beirut, found herself in two places at once on Monday morning.
“I had an 8 a.m. appointment, a 9 a.m. class, and it’s all happening at the same time now,” she said. His 8 a.m. class for his residency document follows official time at a government institution, while his 9 a.m. Arabic class is at an institution expected to switch to daylight savings.
The split led to jokes about “Muslim time” and “Christian time,” while different Internet search engines returned different results early Sunday morning when queried about the current time in Lebanon.
In many cases, although the schism was divided, some Muslims also opposed the change and pointed out that the fast would begin at dawn and end at sunset regardless of the time zone.
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 that the country could face hyperinflation if no action is taken. Lebanon has been without a president since President Michel Aoun’s term ended in late October after parliament failed to elect a replacement.