03/27/2023, 19.24
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Controversial decision over daylight saving time mirrors a divided and indecisive Lebanon

by Fady Noun

Prime Minister Mikati decided on his own that clocks would be advanced a month later than required. How he made the decision came to light after a video was posted online of him talking to the parliamentary speaker. The decision sowed confusion in government offices, grounded planes, and angered the Christian community, starting with the Maronite patriarch.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanese Prime Minister, Nagib Mikati, decided to delay by a month the transition of Lebanon to summer time, which was supposed to occur on Sunday last.

For economist Sami Nader, a well-known face on Lebanese TV, “All this decision has done is further discredit an indecisive state," as the government is stuck in the political mud, and parliament is split into two major camps, unable to pick a new head of state.

Nader’s words clearly sum up the hullabaloo sparked by Mikati’s decision. Faced with the sectarian and political outcry it provoked, the Cabinet held an emergency meeting and decided to stay the postponement, and move immediately to summer time, as provided in an international regulatory regime that Lebanon cannot change without one year's notice.

Mr Mikati made his contentious decision last Thursday, without giving any reason, two days before the scheduled switch to daylight saving time, on Sunday. But then a video was posted online, ostensibly shot at the office of Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, showing the latter asking Mikati not to switch to daylight saving time to allow people fasting for Ramadan, which lasts from sunrise to sunset, to break it an hour earlier.

“The video could not have been leaked without Mr Berry’s express permission,” said a political observer who requested anonymity. “Above all, it shows Berri’s desire to expose Mr Mikati's weaknesses and prove that he still controls government institutions, at a time when some believe Hezbollah dumped him.”

Meanwhile, Mikati's sudden decision angered Christian political and religious leaders. The Maronite patriarch, Bechara al-Rahi, slammed the decision “taken without consultation” adding that the patriarchate would not comply. A phone call from Prime Minister Nagib Mikati failed to change his mind.

The two main Christian parties, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), also spoke out against the prime minister's decision. The FPM president railed against it, accusing Mikati of usurping the authority of the president.

The patriarchate, for its part, "took its position so as not to further Lebanon's isolation," spokesman Walid Ghayad was quoted as saying by AFP. This explanation is intended to tone down a controversy that has caused sectarian tensions.

However, Mr Ghayad's argument is shared by many Lebanese. Out of simple common sense, in an ultra-connected world, many media and businesses have decided not to follow Mr Mikati's decree.

In fact, the delay disrupted international flights and the operations of foreign-linked institutions, since many countries switched to daylight saving time on Sunday.

Stuck by the government decision, the national airline, Middle East Airlines, announced that it was "advancing by one hour the timetable of scheduled flights" out of Beirut.

Following the directives of the Maronite Patriarchate, the Secretariat of Catholic Schools announced that its schools would follow summer time as of Monday.

"What will my wife do since she is the one who drives our children to school before going to work?" wondered one official, who criticised "the two-speed Lebanon" created by Mikati's decision.

On social media, the affair sparked a wave of satirical comments, with one netizen even wondering if "a new civil war" was going to break out.

The whole country was taken by surprise, but as one café patron put it: “So are we going to live an hour away from the rest of the world?" Words that best epitomise the confusion all Lebanese feel.

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