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Lebanon wakes up in two rival time zones in dispute over daylight saving

A clock tower indicates the time in Jdeideh after the government announced a decision to delay daylight saving - Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
A clock tower indicates the time in Jdeideh after the government announced a decision to delay daylight saving - Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

With at least seven unofficial exchange rates, which often change by the hour, people in crisis-hit Lebanon are used to chaos.

But this morning the country woke up in a new state of mass confusion: it now has two rival time zones.

The bizarre situation is the result of an escalating dispute between political and religious authorities over a decision to delay daylight saving time for a month.

Some institutions implemented the change on Sunday while others refused, leaving many Lebanese to juggle work and school schedules in different time zones - all in a country half the size of Wales.

“So now I drop my kids to school at 8am but arrive to my work 42 km away at 7:30am and then I leave work at 5pm but I arrive home an hour later at 7pm!!” one university professor tweeted.

“To my non Lebanese friends please ignore the above comment, I have not gone mad, I just live in wonderland”

A video circulating on Sunday morning showed the clock at Beirut International airport displaying the time as 10.05 on one side and 9.05 on the other.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced the move on Thursday. No explanation was given as to why and the last-minute announcement was widely mocked across the country.

Scrambling to offset the consequences, the national airline announced several hours later that all flights in the month-long period would take off an hour earlier than scheduled to avoid fines and missed connections.

Many businesses across the country rejected the government’s decision, particularly those with international connections, and asked employees to put their clocks forward an hour overnight on Saturday as usual.

When two major news channels also rejected the decision and said that they would display the time an hour ahead, it quickly became apparent that Lebanon was about to have two different time zones: those who stand by the government, and those who refuse.

Then came a concerning sectarian twist. A video of a meeting between Mr Mikati, a Sunni Muslim and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi’ite Muslim, was leaked by Lebanese news outlet Megaphone.

Clock tower in front of the parliament building in Beirut after a decision to postpone the start of daylight saving - Anwar Amro/AFP
Clock tower in front of the parliament building in Beirut after a decision to postpone the start of daylight saving - Anwar Amro/AFP

Mr Berri asked Mr Mikati to postpone the start of daylight savings time to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier - even though the actual time that Muslims would break their fast is at sunset.

“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 video.

Mr Mikati said that he had suggested this before but implementation would be difficult because of consequences such as airline schedules.

Berri interjected, “What flights?”. The decision was made.

The head of the Maronite church on Saturday evening announced it would also reject the government’s rushed decision to change the time.

Christian schools and institutions for the next month will operate in a different time zone to Islamic organisations, in a country that bears the scars of its 15-year civil war between Christian and Muslim factions.