Lebanon wakes up in two simultaneous times zones as government can’t agree on daylight savings change

Aerial view of the seafront Manara district near downtown Beirut.

Bilwander | Getty Images

Nobody quite knows what time it is in Lebanon. 

On Sunday, the Mediterranean country of roughly 6 million was scheduled to turn its clocks back an hour for daylight savings, as it does every year along with much of the wider region and Europe.

This time, however, there was a last-minute objection. 

The holy month of Ramadan, practiced by a major proportion of Lebanon’s population and during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, falls across March and April this year. Daylight savings would mean that sunset falls around 7 p.m. rather than 6 p.m., making practicing Muslims go an additional hour before they can break their fast and eat and drink again. 

A few days before the clocks were to be set back, Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri decided that daylight savings should be postponed until April 21, a move widely seen as an act of support for Muslims observing Ramadan. The country’s leadership is divided between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians.

Lebanon’s powerful Maronite church, the largest Christian institution in the country, objected, saying they were not consulted and that such a last-minute change would cause chaos in the country and put it at odds with international standards.

The result? For the first time ever, millions of people in one small country are suddenly going by two different time zones.

Importantly, however, people’s clocks did not change automatically; the government expects people to change their own clocks manually. With no unified authority dictating what time it is in the country, Lebanese say they are confused and everyone is going by different times zones. 

This has led to chaos and confusion for airports, businesses, and people across Lebanon.

Even Apple and Google can’t seem to agree on what time it is in Lebanon — on iPhones and iPads, Apple has Lebanon’s time zone as unchanged and not aligned with daylight savings. But if you ask Google what time it is in Lebanon, it’s one hour behind. 

This whole thing is a Dumb and Dumber movie… The decision was dumb, but the sectarian-based reaction was even dumber (& more dangerous).

Dan Azzi

Lebanese economist

At Beirut international airport, the scheduling board for departing flights shows two different times for the exact same flight: Flight A3 947 to Athens, for example, was listed twice, shown as departing at both 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. 

“I’m going to the Beirut airport 4 hours before my flight just to make sure this nonsense doesn’t make me miss my flight,” Peter Sleiman, a manager at a media start-up, told CNBC. 

“Personally I’m following the international time (of daylight savings)” Sleiman said. “There’s no way I can handle my meetings and scheduling on the time zone that they [the prime minister] wanted.” 

A bevy of memes have erupted on social media making fun of the situation, while some fear an over-focus on the religious angle of the decision could inflame sectarian tensions in a country that has long been home to numerous different religious groups.

“A very sad and common meme is now: ‘Hey guys let’s meet at 5 p.m.’ ‘Which time zone? the Christian or Muslim one?’,” Sleiman described.

Some in Lebanon have suggested the move by Mikati is a conspiracy to deepen divides in the country, and threatens its Christian population.

“The summer time issue is not a trivial matter, but a symptom of a deeper crisis of Christian political representation in Lebanon, and it deserves serious attention,” Mustapha Hamoui, a Lebanese writer and blogger, wrote on Twitter.

“By disregarding or downplaying this issue, we risk further alienating and marginalizing the Christian community and it will backfire on everyone,” he said. “It was a grave insult for many Christians to witness Berri and Miqati decide on a matter that affects everyone’s lives without even asking for their opinion.”

Others, meanwhile, reject the framing of the issue in sectarian terms.

“My view is that this whole thing is a Dumb and Dumber movie,” Dan Azzi, a Lebanese economist and former CEO of the Lebanese subsidiary of Standard Chartered Bank, wrote on Twitter.

“The decision was dumb, but the sectarian-based reaction was even dumber (& more dangerous). The reaction should have been to solicit unified support across the various sectarian, political, & media lines to reverse it,” he wrote.

It remains to be seen whether Lebanon’s government will rectify and unify its time zone, or whether the Lebanese people — already dealing with skyrocketing inflation, a nearly-collapsed currency, daily power cuts and general state disfunction — will have to continue existing in two simultaneous time zones for the next month.

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