Lebanon wakes up in two simultaneous time zones as government can't agree on daylight saving change
- For the first time ever, millions of people in one small country are suddenly going by two different time zones, due to a disagreement between Lebanon's political and religious authorities over daylight saving.
- This led to chaos and confusion for airports, businesses, and people across Lebanon.
- "This whole thing is a Dumb and Dumber movie," one Lebanese economist said.
- On Monday afternoon, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that Lebanon's cabinet had voted to rectify the issue and move the clocks forward by one hour on Wednesday night.
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 saving, 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 saving 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 saving 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 time zones.
This 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 saving. 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 AzziLebanese 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 saving)" Sleiman said. "There's no way I can handle my meetings and scheduling on the time zone that they [the prime minister] wanted."
Muslim institutions and parties seemed intent to follow Mikati's lead and remain on the winter time zone, while many Christian institutions said they would abide by daylight saving time. Major Lebanese news outlets LBCI and MTV said they would also move their clocks forward.
Middle East Airlines, meanwhile — Lebanon's flagship carrier — "said its clocks would stay in winter time but it would adjust its flight times to keep in line with international schedules," Reuters reported.
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 suggested the move by Mikati was 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, rejected 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.
The confusion presented yet another challenge — and for some, a tragic comedy — as the Lebanese people are already dealing with skyrocketing inflation, a nearly-collapsed currency, daily power cuts and general state dysfunction.
On Monday afternoon, Mikati said that Lebanon's cabinet had voted to rectify the issue and move the clocks forward by one hour on Wednesday night. Mikati said, according to Reuters, that the decision had been taken after a "calm discussion."