Lebanon’s government has walked back a controversial decision to delay winter clock changes by a month, after last week’s announcement by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati sparked exasperation and confusion in a country already gripped by economic crisis.
Mikati’s plan to postpone Daylight Saving until April 20 (following the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), rather than introducing it on March 25, was rejected by several churches and media organizations, and caused chaos in a population that woke up to two different timezones.
However, the Lebanese leader said his government had since voted to adopt Daylight Saving time starting on Wednesday night into Thursday, adding that the decision was taken after “calm discussions.”
“We had to take a period of 48 hours to put this into effect, in order to deal with some technical matters that have arisen as a result of (the) last announcement,” Mikati said.
“Let us be clear. The problem is not a matter of summer or winter timings … the problem is the gap in the presidency in the first place. As prime minister, I do not hold any responsibility for this gap,” Mikati said.
Lebanon is gripped by a political deadlock that has prevented parliament from electing a president since former leader Michel Aoun left his post in October, after he presided over a catastrophic economic meltdown and a deadly Beirut port blast.
Mikati said that his initial decision to postpone winter clock changes was “intended to relieve those fasting in the month of Ramadan for an hour, without causing any harm to any other Lebanese factions.”
“Some considered this decision a challenge to them, and gave it a dimension I had never imagined. I certainly did not make the decision with the intention of being sectarian or religious.”
The government initially did not give a direct explanation for the move, although local media suggested it was introduced to line up with Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
In some cases the debate took on a sectarian nature. Politics in Lebanon is sharply sectarian, with seats in parliament allocated by religion.
The decision prompted widespread revolt, with two TV channels going ahead with the clock changes in protest.
Some Lebanese also found the funny side of the episode.
A clip circulating on social media showed a digital clock at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport displaying two different times; on one side the clock flashes with the time of 10:05, the other side shows 9:05.
At a cafe in Beirut on Saturday evening, a Reuters journalist reported overhearing one customer ask: “Will you follow the Christian or Muslim clock starting tomorrow?”
CNN’s Mia Alberti and Sophie Tanno contributed reporting.