Lebanon woke up today, Sunday, to two different times, amid an escalating dispute between the political and religious authorities over the decision to extend the work in winter time for a month.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a decision on Thursday to move time forward by an hour, starting from April 20, instead of starting summer time on the last weekend of March, as was the custom in Lebanon, Europe and other regions.
Miqati announced the decision after a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who repeatedly insisted on extending winter time, according to a video clip of the meeting published by the Lebanese website Megaphone.
Berri said, according to the video clip, “Instead of 7 o’clock, it remains 6 o’clock from now until the end of Ramadan.”
Although no reason was given for the decision, some considered it an attempt to appeal to Muslims by giving those fasting in Ramadan the opportunity to break their fast early according to winter time at around six in the evening instead of seven in the event that work in summer time is applied at its usual time.
But the influential Maronite Church, Lebanon’s largest, announced on Saturday that it would disagree with the decision, which it described as “surprising”, and said that no consultations had taken place with other stakeholders and international standards had not been taken into account.
It said it would advance the time by an hour on Saturday evening, and Christian institutions, parties and schools announced similar plans.
At the same time, it seemed that Islamic institutions and parties would continue to work according to winter time, which deepens divisions in a country that experienced a civil war from 1975 to 1990 between Christian and Islamic factions and divides parliament seats along sectarian lines.
And companies and media organizations announced that they would also start working in summer time on Saturday evening, with increasing calls for disobedience. Among these media organizations are LBCI and MTV, two of the most prominent news channels in Lebanon.
LBCI television said in a statement that it would not comply with Mikati’s decision because it affected his business, adding that “Lebanon is not an isolated island”.
Others have tried to adapt.
The Lebanese Airlines (Middle East Airlines) said that its hours and other devices will remain on winter time in line with Mikati’s decision, but it will adjust its flight times to be in line with international times.
The state-run telecom company sent messages to customers advising them to set the time on their phones manually on Sunday if the clock on their phones advanced automatically.
A video showed Mikati’s meeting with Berri, the caretaker prime minister, saying that extending winter time would cause “problems”, including flight schedules.
But later that day, Mikati issued a decree extending the winter time.
In a statement on Saturday evening, his office described the decision as “purely administrative” and expressed regret for “the sectarian turn taken by the issue of delaying the timing.”
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that he had no comment yet on the justifications for the decision, nor on the angry reactions to it.
Henry Khoury, Minister of Justice in the caretaker government, who is a Christian, called Mikati to reverse his decision in the first objection from within the cabinet, in which political positions are often determined according to sectarian bases.
He said in a statement late on Saturday that the decision “contradicts the principle of legitimacy,” adding that it caused confusion in Lebanese society and caused divisions among religious references at a time when Lebanon is suffering from several crises.