After timezone fiasco, Lebanese ask for real change

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lebanese say they want real action from their government to solve the country’s crises, but don’t expect it.

A watch and a phone on display, both showing the time.
A government decision to extend winter time, and a backlash against it from some quarters, resulted in two different times being used in Lebanon for a few days [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon has shifted to daylight savings time a few days later than initially planned after a backlash to a controversial government decision left the country split between two different time zones.

Lebanon had been scheduled to make the shift last weekend, but a last-minute government decision extended winter time by approximately a month to avoid making the fasting day an hour longer for Muslims in Ramadan.

But the decision was rejected by other institutions, including the Maronite Church, resulting in two different times being used in the country and the eventual government announcement on Monday that the decision would be reversed.

The debacle has exacerbated the despair felt by many Lebanese who long for the implementation of reforms to lift the country from one of the world’s worst financial crises.

Al Jazeera spoke to several Lebanese people to hear their thoughts about the time zone debacle and the troubles Lebanon continues to face.

Sameer Rashed, taxi driver

Man stares out of car window.
Taxi driver Sameer says he had to sell one of his cars to be able to afford food [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

“If I could change something in this country…I would collect all of the parliament members and burn them,” says 65-year-old Sameer, as he drives his taxi. “There have to be changes, we have to collapse everything and rebuild everything again. Because all of them are thieves, all of them have robbed the country.”

Sameer tells Al Jazeera he was living in a “nightmare” – he has lost his $60,000 of savings in the banking collapse and the money he makes is barely enough to cover fuel, let alone pay for his two children’s university tuition or his blood pressure medication.

“Every day is worse than the other. I am just working to pay for the gas so I don’t stay at home all day. Some days I can afford food, some days I have to borrow money or buy groceries on credit,” he says.

At the end of the journey with Sameer, his fuel light blinks, indicating he needs to fill up again. As the car stops, Sameer removes his glasses, wipes away a tear and takes a blood pressure pill.

Like many other thousands of young Lebanese, Sameer’s children are planning to leave the country after graduating.

Three women at a coffee table
Luna, Lea and Jenny’s fathers are all working outside Lebanon because of the lack of opportunities in the country [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Luna Chaar, Lea Richmany, Jenny Chirickdjian, students

Sitting at a coffee shop near the American University of Beirut, these 18-year-old students say they know their future is outside Lebanon.

“I love the country, I wish I could stay but it’s not logical”, Jenny tells Al Jazeera, her friends nodding in agreement.

For them, the most pressing issue is fixing the exponential devaluation of the Lebanese pound, the national currency that has lost approximately 98 percent of its value against the dollar in just under three years.

“Every time the dollar rate goes up, something goes really bad in the country and that’s really unsafe for everybody,” Jenny says, referring to recent protests, roadblocks and bank stormings.

“And it’s all in [the government’s] hands honestly, so they need to fix that because Lebanon is not getting any better,” Luna says.

“The best thing we can do to fix the country is just to educate people and then the educated ones will be the ones that will run for government in the future and just fix everything,” Lea adds.

Dania Lashi, IT worker

Dania and her two children cross the road
Dania worries about the state of education in Lebanon [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Dania knows well the importance of education. She works in the IT department of the same university, AUB, where she has seen countless teachers and faculty members leave Lebanon “because of the insecurity in the country”.

Dania is also a mother of two boys, 11 and four years old, to whom she has been explaining the situation in the country, from the “corruption in the government” to the electoral process, she tells Al Jazeera, as she picks her sons up from their school. For her, fixing the education sector should be one of the government’s priorities.

“Public schools are not opening so imagine how many kids in Lebanon are missing out on the education they deserve”, Dania says.

“It doesn’t impact my kids directly but it will impact society as a whole”, she adds.

Yara Mussa, fast-food worker

19-year-old Yara says she couldn’t continue her university studies because she couldn’t afford it.

She now works full-time at a popular Lebanese fast-food chain.

Above the counter where Yara greets customers, the menu prices are in dollars: salads for $10, and $8.50 for a chicken wrap.

But Yara’s salary is still paid in Lebanese pounds. The restaurant’s hourly rate is 35,000 pounds, barely $0.30.

“The timezone is not important. Our salaries don’t even reach $100 a month. The government should focus on the poor people, we are suffering,” Yara says.

Ezzaldein Shahabi, donut shop worker

Man wearing a dunkin donuts apron holds up a donut
Ezzaldein says he feels psychologically impacted by events in Lebanon the past few years [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

A few shops down, Ezzaldein, also 19, works at an American doughnut franchise. He makes about $150 per month, half in dollars, and half in Lebanese pounds. Although it is not enough to cover his full tuition, he uses the money to help pay for his studies.

Ezzaldein, like Yara, also talks about the constant suffering Lebanese people face.

He was just 17 years old when the Beirut port explosion destroyed huge parts of the city. As a boy scout, Shahabi was one of the first people at the scene.

“I saw a lot of things. that’s not something we should see at that age”, he tells Al Jazeera.

The 19-year-old, who also participated in the country’s 2019 protest movement, says he feels traumatised and helpless seeing his country’s current state. For him, accountability for the blast’s victims’ families should be a top priority for the government.

“There are innocent people dead and I didn’t help, my voice…I can’t do anything. We should do something but it’s [Prime Minister Najib] Mikati and the other people in the government [who are to blame],” he adds.

Hiba Yahfoufi, laboratory technician

A woman standing on the side of a street looks into the camera
Hiba Yahfoufi has seen many cancer patients die because they can’t afford treatment [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Hiba Yahfoufi, 34, shares the same despair. The lab technician works daily with cancer patients at one of Beirut’s top hospitals, where prices are now set in dollars. Since the crisis began, she has seen the number of patients decline, as many can no longer afford life-saving treatment.

“It’s especially difficult for cancer patients”. Yahfoufi tells Al Jazeera with a sigh, shaking her head.

“The worst thing that is happening now in this country is the hospitals, where patients are suffering in front of the hospital doors because they don’t have ‘fresh dollars’ to pay for their treatment”, she says, using the Lebanese term for cash US banknotes.

Alex Kutteh, pharmacist

Pharmacist in white lab coat stands behind a counter.
Alex Kutteh is often not able to find enough medication for his customers [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

In a nearby pharmacy, Alex Kutteh, 77, searches the mostly empty shelves for blood pressure medication for one of his regular customers.

“The business is definitely deteriorating,” Kutteh said.

Lebanon’s financial default has severely impacted its capacity to import, with one of the most affected sectors being medicines, where shortages abound. The pharmacist says he struggles to put into words how he feels when he cannot provide care to a regular customer.

Kutteh mostly blames what he calls “outside forces nourishing the agenda of the thieves in Lebanon”, for the country’s problems.

When asked what he’d change in his country, Kutteh replies: “It’s a useless case. I gave up.”

“It’s very depressing, we can’t see any hope.”

Source: Al Jazeera