Lebanon’s cabinet reverses decision to delay clock change

Lebanon has operated in two time zones as some businesses and institutions followed the order and others refused.

Lebanon’s cabinet has reversed a decision by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to delay the start of daylight saving time after it triggered widespread anger and the country’s largest church refused to abide by it.

Clocks will now move forward an hour on Wednesday night, rather than at the end of the holy month of Ramadan in April.

“The new daylight saving time will start at midnight Wednesday,” Mikati said after a cabinet meeting.

Lebanon had been scheduled to roll its clocks forward by one hour last weekend, but authorities announced a surprise decision late last week that the switch would be delayed by about a month.

The 11th-hour move, meant to support Muslims during the fasting month of Ramadan, was promptly rejected by the Maronite Church as well as some broadcasters, schools, businesses and even several politicians.

“When the prime minister decided to postpone shifting to summer time, no official explanation was given, but he has now made it clear that it was to relieve people during the fasting month of Ramadan,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut.

“The opposition to his decision mainly came from the Christian camp in Lebanon,” Khodr said.

“They say that a Sunni prime minister took a unilateral decision without consulting with state institutions and that they felt left out of the decision-making process,” she said.

Sectarian divisions

After the cabinet meeting called about the issue, Mikati said he “absolutely did not take this decision for sectarian reasons”.

Lebanon has been in economic and political crisis for years. It is run by a caretaker government with limited powers since May’s legislative elections. The president left office at the end of October, and the country’s leaders have been squabbling over his replacement ever since.

Mikati said his decision “should not have triggered such sectarian responses”.

“The problem is not summer time or winter time. … The problem is the presidential vacuum,” Mikati said, blaming “religious and political leaders” as well as parliamentarians for failing to come to an agreement.

Power in Lebanon is shared among its 18 recognised religious communities, and its political woes are often blamed on sectarian divisions, which were the key driver behind its 1975-1990 civil war.

According to a sectarian arrangement, Lebanon’s president is Christian while the prime minister comes from the Sunni community. The parliament speaker’s post goes to a Shia.

The last-minute delay of the time change last week sparked widespread confusion, forcing institutions, businesses and residents to revise their schedules or scramble to keep up with who was and wasn’t adhering to the change.

Flag carrier Middle East Airlines, while earlier implementing the government-ordered delay, had said it would move departure times by one hour to adhere to international flight schedules.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies