Keeping track of time proved to be a nearly impossible task for people in Lebanon over the weekend.
Typically, the tiny Mediterranean country sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March, in keeping with most European countries. But last Thursday (March 23), prime minister Najib Mikati decided to delay the start of daylight saving time to April 21 to align with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Not everyone got, or decided to follow, the memo. On Sunday (Mar. 26), some institutions waited to delay the clocks, but others did not. What ensued was a cocktail of confusion and chaos. While government institutions were bound to follow the change, many private players didn’t pay heed. The population of 6.7 million was reporting to workplaces and schools at different times. Airlines were listing the same flights at two different times, one hour apart.
Today (March 27), Mikati scrapped the decision to delay the start of daylight saying, saying the state would need 48 hours to readjust.
“Muslim” time and “Christian” time in Lebanon
While no official reason was given for dealing daylight saving time, a leaked video of a meeting between Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri saw the latter asking the former for the postponement to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier, AP News reported. Daylight saving delays sunset by an hour, making practicing Muslims wait an extra hour before they can break their fast.
Among those who rejected the move was the small nation’s largest church, the Maronite Church. The Christian institution argued the move was too last-minute and misaligned with international standards.
Quotable: Lebanon’s crisis is bigger than timezones
“Let us be clear. The problem is not winter or summer time... Rather, the problem is the vacuum in the top post in the republic.” —Prime Minister Najib Mikati
Tweeted: Lebanon’s divided time zones
To elucidate how the timezone conflict was proof of a “deeply-divided society and a broken governance,” Lebanese neuroscientist and activist, Ali H. Shaib created a map based on modeling religion-divide. Assuming some areas followed the Christian recommendation of rolling the clocks forward, others followed the Muslim diktat of keeping the time unchanged, and others yet had a mix of both because the population was more mixed, the disagreements around daylight savings revealed a nation splintered.
Lebanon’s financial crisis, and the delayed IMF bailout
The time zone confusion highlighted the depth of the country’s internal turmoil.
Lebanon is facing a financial crisis that ranks among the world’s three worst since the mid-19th century, courtesy decades of corruption and political derailment. Just days ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the country, where three-quarters of the population lies below the poverty line, is headed for hyperinflation.
The IMF, which recently doled out bailout packages to Sri Lanka and Ukraine, has been trying to etch a deal with Lebanon, but to little avail. Since it struck a preliminary deal last year, the Lebanese government has failed to introduce much-needed reforms on which the funding package is contingent.
😟 It’ll take more than an exchange rate change to get Lebanon out of its deep crisis
⚖️ Lebanon’s extreme income inequality is fueling its huge protests