“I think we arrive at 6:30 wrong time,” said one woman aboard the flight, speaking in Arabic, saying “wrong time” the way one might say “D.C. time.” Another passenger asked for clarity on the arrival time displayed on the screen, but the flight attendant was equally confused. Someone muttered, “If you want to know my [religious] sect, ask me for the time.”
Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced Thursday that clocks would not be rolled forward on March 26 alongside Europe, as is customary in Lebanon. Instead, he decided to postpone daylight saving time until April 21.
While no explicit reason was given at first, the postponement was for the benefit of Lebanon’s Muslims, who are fasting for the holy month of Ramadan, which began last week and will end April 20. For a month, practicing Muslims will abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise until sunset. Moving the clock forward means breaking the fast at 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.
The postponement was met with not only derision but also a widespread outright refusal to comply that, on Monday, forced Mikati to backtrack on his decision. Daylight saving time will go into effect in two days, he said, at midnight Wednesday.
One of the first dissents came from former foreign minister Gebran Bassil, a right-wing populist and a favorite target of protests against corruption. Bassil, who is under U.S. sanctions, frequently expresses worries about “Christian rights” being eroded in Lebanon. “The issue of the clock is unacceptable,” he said in a tweet last week, adding that the decision was rife with “meaning” and encouraging people to speak up and disobey.
After the delay was initially announced, the influential Maronite patriarch, the head of country’s largest Christian church, released a statement calling the decision “surprising” and “impromptu,” and announcing that it would be rejecting the postponement, which it said was made “without consulting all Lebanese components and without any regard for international standards.”
Lebanon was quickly partitioned into different pockets of time. Flipping through television, one would find it was 4 p.m. on channels that traditionally catered to more Christian audiences, but 3 p.m. on those watched more heavily by Muslims.
“Lebanon is not an isolated island,” said LBCI, one of the country’s main news channels, in a statement to announce its noncompliance, explaining that the last-minute decision affects Lebanon’s ability to seamlessly communicate with the rest of the world. “We will not accept isolation. We have decided to progress, and there is no turning back.”
One well-known gym announced that its two branches, located in mostly Christian cities just outside of Beirut, would move their clocks forward. Its three branches in the capital would remain on the winter schedule — including one in an ostensibly Christian neighborhood, to comply with the hours of the mall housing it.
Appointments and reservations were being given “according to the old time” or “according to your phone.” The latter added to the confusion, as phones automatically leaped forward in time, but both of Lebanon’s mobile operators messaged subscribers asking them to switch off the automated setting to comply with the government decision.
Splits opened up inside the government itself, with the education minister announcing that schools and universities would move to summer time. His defiance begot defiance: The Lebanese University said it would stick with winter time.
The Lebanese, no strangers to chaos, quickly found ways to ridicule their reality. Many cracked jokes at how two time zones are a natural next step for a country that has several official exchange rates and a predominant black market rate — a product of a banking and currency crisis that has ravaged the country in the past few years.
A website sprung up, called “What time is it?” in Arabic, displaying “Lebanon Real Time” and “Lebanon Black Market Time.” People joked that you could drive from a Christian coastal city at 6 p.m. and reach Beirut’s corniche at 5:30 p.m. “The traffic crisis has been solved,” said a message being forwarded around on popular text application WhatsApp.
Coffee Break, a popular Instagram account featuring two women who tackle Lebanese issues with acerbic wit, sarcastically congratulated the prime minister for making a decision to begin with — a jab at the current political gridlock and inaction from the government to elect a president, fix the economy or carry out an investigation into a blast that tore through the capital in 2020 and killed over 200 people.
The two listed other things the prime minister could have made a decision on: regulating the country’s extended electricity cuts so that at least they come at specific times, or fixing the collapsed medical sector, formerly a burgeoning industry that drew patients from around the region. “You would think, how about closing the potholes and hiding the electricity cables? But all prime ministers can do that. What makes him Najib Mikati?”
Mikati addressed the sectarian nature of the debates that followed the daylight saving time decision, telling the local Al-Mayadeen channel on Saturday that the state of affairs had reached “disgusting levels.” He said he regretted “the sectarian direction that the issue of daylight saving time had taken, which had nothing to do with the topic.” Mikati blamed “some” for trying to “drag the country into sectarian divides to fuel conflicts.”
He said the transport minister had been informed six months earlier. He did not explain why a public announcement wasn’t made earlier.
On Monday afternoon, less than 36 hours after the decision went into effect, Mikati backtracked his decision, which he said was solely aimed at extending some relief to those fasting.
“Suddenly,” he said, “some considered the decision a personal challenge and awarded it a dimension I had never imagined. … Such a decision did not necessitate all these hateful sectarian responses.” He added that these reactions have led him to reconsider his continuing “to bear responsibility for those who are incapable to bear it themselves,” explicitly naming “the political elite” for the continuous gridlock over filling the presidency.
Since parliamentary elections last May, Mikati’s government has been operating in a limited caretaker capacity, a result of then-President Michel Aoun failing to approve Mikati’s cabinet lineups. Aoun left office at the end of October, plunging the country into an unprecedented double crisis, with a caretaker cabinet and no head of state.
In a televised statement Monday, Mikati said: “Let’s be clear: The problem is not an issue of winter or summer timing that would be extended for less than a month. The problem is the vacuum at the head of the republic.”
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.