May 24. 2024. 5:47

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Lebanon wakes to two different time zones amid dispute over decision to extend winter time

Lebanon woke up in two time zones on Sunday amid an escalating dispute between political and religious authorities over a decision to extend winter time for a month.

Caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati decided on Thursday to roll clocks forward an hour on April 20th, instead of entering daylight savings time on the last weekend of March as is usually the case in Lebanon, Europe and other regions.

Mr Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, announced the decision after a meeting with Shiite parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who repeatedly insisted on the change, according to a video of the meeting published by Lebanese outlet Megaphone.

“Instead of it being 7 o’clock, let it stay 6 o’clock from now until the end of Ramadan,” Mr Berri said, according to the clip.

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Though no reason was given for the decision, it was seen as an attempt to score a win by Muslims, allowing those fasting during the holy month of Ramadan to break their fasts an hour earlier, at around 6pm instead of 7pm.

But Lebanon’s influential Maronite church, the largest Christian church in the country, on Saturday announced it would not abide by the decision, saying there had been no consultations or considerations of international standards.

It said it would turn clocks forward on Saturday night and other Christian organisations, parties and schools announced similar plans.

Meanwhile, Muslim institutions and parties appeared set to remain in winter time, deepening divides in a country that witnessed a 1975-90 civil war between Christian and Muslim factions and where parliament seats are allocated by religious sect.

Businesses and media organisations, including two of Lebanon’s main news channels LBCI and MTV, announced they too would enter daylight savings on Saturday night.

LBCI said in a statement that it would disobey Mikati’s decision because it would have harmed its work, adding: “Lebanon is not an island”.

Others have tried to adapt.

Lebanon’s national carrier Middle East Airlines said its clocks and other devices would stay in winter time but it would adjust its flight times to keep in line with international schedules.

The state-run telecoms duopoly sent messages to customers advising them to set the time on their devices manually on Sunday, in case the clocks had automatically gone forward.

Many said the potential chaos was emblematic of decades of failed governance by leaders that led Lebanon into a 2019 financial crisis the World Bank said was “orchestrated” by elites.

During the meeting with Mr Berri, Mr Mikati was seen responding in the video clip that his request was not possible because it would cause “problems”, including to flight scheduling.

But later that day, Mr Mikati issued the decision to stay in winter time. His office said in a statement on Saturday night the decision was a “purely administrative procedure” that was being given “an obnoxious sectarian turn”.

A spokesperson for the premier’s office said it did not have an immediate comment on the reasoning behind the decision or the resulting backlash.

Caretaker justice minister Henry Khoury, a Christian, called on Mikati in a statement late on Saturday to reverse the move, in the first objection from within the cabinet where political loyalties mostly follow sectarian religious lines.

Mr Khoury said the decision “violated the principle of legitimacy” and had caused splits in Lebanese society and along religious lines at a time when Lebanon is already facing multiple crises.

At a Beirut cafe on Saturday evening, a Reuters journalist heard one customer ask: “Will you follow the Christian or Muslim clock starting tomorrow?”

Independent MP Waddah Sadek said on Twitter decisions were taken without “any consideration for the consequences or confusion that they cause”.

Some Twitter users shared an old recording of famed Lebanese composer and musician Ziad Rahbani speaking about daylight savings.

“Each year, you put the clock forward an hour and you keep us back 10 years,” he says, referring to Lebanese politicians.

“You should pay attention to the years too, not just the hour.” – Reuters

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023