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Lebanon PM reverses daylight saving time decision after 48 hours of anarchy

The decision to postpone the switch to daylight saving time sparked a wide debate in Lebanon, in some cases taking on a sectarian nature.
Lebanese forces try to prevent protestors from vandalising a private bank during a demonstration by members of the banks depositors committee against monetary policies, on March 24, 2023. - Lebanon's economic meltdown, described by the World Bank as one of the worst in recent global history, has plunged most of the population into poverty according to the United Nations. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government announced the reinstatement of daylight saving time Monday, reversing an earlier decision to postpone the move by a month that had caused uproar and confusion across the country.

Following a cabinet meeting, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that the clock will be set to daylight saving time Wednesday at midnight. 

Lebanon usually adopts daylight saving time, which aligns with the Eastern European time zone, from the end of March to the end of October.

But last Thursday, the government announced a last-minute decision to postpone the switch to the end of April, which coincides with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The move was seen as a favor to the Muslim community, which would have allowed the fast to end an hour earlier, at sunset. 

“The previous decision to continue working according to winter time until the end of Ramadan was taken following months of intensive meetings between ministers and concerned parties to bring some relief to those fasting, without causing any harm to any other component,” Mikati said after Monday’s meeting, in a bid to justify the controversial move. 

Social media users had circulated leaked footage of an informal meeting between Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri casually discussing the delay issue hours before the announcement was made last week, prompting a wave of criticism and mockery.

The previous decision also caused division among the Lebanese, in some cases taking on a sectarian nature. It also added to the wave of protests and upheaval that the country is seeing in response to the economic crisis and the political void since October. 

In defiance of the government move, the Maronite Patriarchate announced that it will adopt the summer time according to international standards. Several schools followed suit. Local news outlets, including MTV and LBCI, also said they will not abide by the government decision. Nadim Gemayel, a member of the Christian Kataeb party, said that his party too will ignore the government decision.

“[Muslims] have their time; we have our time. They have their mini-state, we have our Lebanon,” he added in a tweet, mirroring a famous quote by author Gebran Khalil Gebran, “You have your Lebanon, I have my Lebanon,” in reference to bickering politicians. 

Meanwhile, Muslim institutions and businesses appeared set to remain in winter time.

Hassan Moraib, an official at Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon's Muslim Sunni authority, criticized MTV and LBCI’s decision in a tweet on Saturday, calling them “racist” and “sectarian.”

Lebanon has a history of sectarian strife. The 1975-90 civil war mainly pitted Muslim forces and Palestinian factions against Christian forces.

Despite the confusion, the government appeared bent on moving ahead with its decision — before it reversed it on Monday.

Last week, the country’s national carrier, Middle East Airlines, decided to push forward by one hour all departing flights, but said its clocks and other devices would stay in winter time. A video of a clock at the Beirut international airport showing two different times over the weekend was widely shared on social media. 

Mobile phone users across the country reported receiving a text message from the two main local providers, Alfa and Touch, asking them to manually turn off the “automatic date and time” switch on their phones.

Meanwhile, many rushed to denounce the sectarian debate caused by the decision, instead expressing their anger at the politicians they accuse of sowing strife among the Lebanese, while failing to address the pressing problems in the country. Lebanon, which is grappling with a crippling economic crisis, has been without a president since October 2022. 

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