Late decision to delay clock change leaves Lebanon in time zone chaos

▶ Watch Video: Health risks associated with daylight saving time

The people of Lebanon woke up at the beginning of this week to find themselves torn between two time zones after the government made a last-minute decision to postpone the switch to Daylight Saving Time (DST). Clocks in the country had been set to spring forward one hour on Sunday, but the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, asked the country’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati late last week to postpone the move until after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“It’s just between now and the end of Ramadan,” Berri is heard saying in a video leaked online showing the two leaders discuss the matter. “Once Ramadan is over, let them have what they want.”

The two leaders — both Muslims — appeared to be in favor of the idea, which means Muslims in the country can break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier. Despite admitting the sudden change could “create all sorts of problems,” the prime minister decided to delay the transition to DST, and the move was announced Thursday.

Lebanon Daylight Saving Salah Nasab, a Lebanese street vendor who also sells and repairs clocks, sits next to two clocks that show different times in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, March 27, 2023.

Mohammad Zaatari/AP

As he predicted, the move created all sorts of problems. Airline companies struggled to amend their flight schedules, cloud-based digital servers used by cell phone operators couldn’t be synchronized, and hospitals and banking systems that share platforms with other institutions outside Lebanon were badly impacted.

The American University in Beirut announced that while classes and instructional activities on campus would be held on DST, appointments and inpatient procedures at its medical center would continue to be scheduled on winter time, at least until the university’s IT teams were able to reconfigure the systems.

Apart from the actual glitches, the last-minute change in plans also brought a flood of angry criticism, especially from Lebanon’s Christian communities.

“The hasty decision… issued by the caretaker Prime Minister, Mr. Najib Mikati, without consulting with other Lebanese components, without any regard for international standards, causes confusion and damage at home and abroad,” the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon said in a statement, stressing that the church would not abide by it.

Lebanese people took to social media to mock the decision, which many said was taken by two men alone who had completely failed to consider the consequences of their action.

Video posted online by one Twitter user showed two sides of the same digital clock at Beirut Airport displaying two different times, with a message ridiculing both leaders apparently behind the chaos and a hashtag lamenting country’s collective “shame.”

Another Twitter user showed screenshots from search engines Google and Bing reflecting different times in the country. Microsoft appeared to be heeding the government’s decision to delay the clock change, while Google was still telling people on Monday that Lebanon was on winter time.

“Making appointments in Lebanon for the next month: ‘See you tomorrow at 2 pm Muslim time, 3 pm Christian time,” joked another user.

Amid the chaos and criticism, Mikati announced later Monday that he was reversing his decision, and that the shift to summertime would be implemented Wednesday night.

“That is to give a few days to undo some of the changes that occurred” as a result of the postponement of Daylight Saving Time, he said.

“But let’s be clear,” the prime minister told reporters, “the problem is not with winter or summer time, but rather with the vacuum caused by the absence of a president, and from my position as prime minister, I bear no responsibility for this vacuum.”

Lebanon has been mired by political and economic chaos since outgoing President Michel Aoun’s election mandate expired in October 2022, leaving the country without a president and in the hands of a caretaker cabinet with limited powers and a parliament deeply divided along sectarian lines.

Protest in Lebanon A protester holds a tear gas canister fired by riot police during a protest against the worsening political and economic crises in the country amid a plunge in the local pound, March 22, 2023, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty

The country’s economy is in ruins, with an inflation rate exceeding 125% and a local currency that’s lost 80% of its value against the dollar since last year.

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