- For the first time, millions of people in a small country are suddenly moving between two different time zones because of disagreements between Lebanon’s political and religious authorities.
- This caused chaos and confusion at airports, businesses and people across Lebanon.
- “It’s a completely dumb and dumb movie,” said a Lebanese economist.
Aerial view of the coastal area of Manara district near Beirut.
Billwander | Good pictures
Nobody knows what time it is in Lebanon.
On Sunday, the Mediterranean nation of about 6 million people was scheduled to go back an hour for daylight saving, as it does every year along with the wider region and much of Europe.
But this time there was a protest at the last moment.
Ramadan, the holy month observed by the majority of Lebanon’s population and Muslims fasting from sunrise to sunset, falls this year in March and April. Daylight saving means sunset falls around 7pm instead of 6pm, allowing practicing Muslims to break their fast and go back to eating and drinking an hour earlier.
Days before the clocks were set back, Lebanon’s conservative Prime Minister Najib Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri decided that daylight saving should be postponed until April 21, widely seen as an act of support for Muslims celebrating Ramadan. The country’s leadership is divided between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians.
Lebanon’s powerful Maronite Church, the country’s largest Christian body, objected, saying they were not consulted and that such a last-minute change would cause confusion in the country and was against international standards.
The result? For the first time, millions of people in a small country are suddenly in two different time zones.
Importantly, however, people’s clocks did not automatically change; The government expects people to manually change their own clocks. Because no unified authority tells them what the time is in the country, the Lebanese say they are confused and everyone goes to different time zones.
This caused chaos and confusion at airports, businesses and people across Lebanon.
Even Apple and Google don’t seem to agree on what time it is in Lebanon — on iPhones and iPads, Apple doesn’t change Lebanon’s time zone and align with daylight savings. But if you ask Google what time it is in Lebanon, it’s an hour behind.
This whole thing is a dumb and dumb movie…the ending is dumb, but the religious based reaction is even dumber (& very dangerous).
At Beirut International Airport, the schedule board for departures shows two different times for the same flight: for example, flight A3 947 to Athens is listed twice as departing at 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“I get to the Beirut airport 4 hours before my flight so that this idiot doesn’t miss my flight,” Peter Sleiman, a media start-up manager, told CNBC.
“Personally I follow International Time (Daylight Savings),” Sleeman said. “I can’t handle my appointments and scheduling in the time zone [the prime minister] should.”
Memes have exploded on social media poking fun at the situation, while some fear that focusing too much on the religious angle of the decision could stoke sectarian tensions in the country, which is home to various religious groups.
“The saddest and most common memory now is: ‘Hey guys see you at 5pm’ ‘Which time zone? Christian or Muslim?’,” recounted Sleiman.
Some in Lebanon have suggested Mikati’s move is a plot to deepen divisions in the country and threaten its Christian population.
“The DST issue is not a trivial matter, but a sign of a deep crisis of Christian political representation in Lebanon and deserves serious attention,” Lebanese writer and blogger Mustafa Hamoy wrote on Twitter.
“By ignoring or downplaying this issue, we risk further alienating and marginalizing the Christian community, and this will backfire on everyone,” he said. “This is a great shame for many Christians who have seen Perry and Mikati make a decision on a matter that affects everyone’s lives without even hearing their opinion.”
Others, meanwhile, reject framing the issue in sectarian terms.
Lebanese economist and former CEO of Standard Chartered Bank’s Lebanese subsidiary, Dan Azzi, tweeted, “In my opinion this is a completely dumb and stupid movie.
“The conclusion is absurd, but an even duller (and more dangerous) response to sectarianism should be to demand concerted support across various sectarian, political and media channels,” he wrote.
It remains to be seen whether Lebanon’s government will adjust and unify its time zone, or whether the Lebanese people — already dealing with soaring inflation, a near-collapsed currency, daily power outages and public outages — will have to continue with the two. Time zones for the next month.