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Rahaf Zaher

June 2nd, 2023

Time: A New Opportunity for Contestation in Lebanon

0 comments | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Rahaf Zaher

June 2nd, 2023

Time: A New Opportunity for Contestation in Lebanon

0 comments | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

by Rahaf Zaher

Sultan Abdul Hamid Clock, Tripoli, Lebanon, July 2010. Source: Frank Plaschke, Flickr.

It is customary for the daylight-saving shift to take place in Lebanon on the last Sunday of March. However, this year a decision was issued by the cabinet’s Secretary-General on 23 March, merely two days before the scheduled shift, to postpone the date to 21 April. Conforming to the customary lack of transparency in Lebanese governance, the reason behind this last-minute decision was not officially disclosed at first. However, since the shift coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, it was understood that this was the reason behind the postponement. A ‘leaked’ meeting between the interim prime minister, Najib Mikati, and parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, confirmed this assumption as Berri said: ‘Instead of breaking fast at 7 o’clock, it will stay at 6 o’clock till the end of Ramadan, then we’ll make the shift’.

The decision did not pass peacefully. Some Lebanese residents expressed their disapproval of the decision, especially since it interfered with flight times and electronic devices, adding to the uncertainty that people in Lebanon struggle with on a daily basis. Yet, the disapproval was not limited to technical issues but turned into a religious dispute. The Christian community along with its representatives in government voiced their contempt and dubbed the incident an attempt at the ‘Islamification’ of Lebanon.

In the few days since the decision, Christian religious figures reportedly refused to meet representatives of the Prime Minister, citing the postponement as justification. Adding to this, all Christian-affiliated TV stations (MTV, LBC, and OTV) have announced their refusal to abide by the decision. This led to a rift between citizens and organisations who were left to decide which timing they would follow – the international daylight saving time or the government set time – according to their own preferences, and sometimes, affiliations.

Figure 1: Time Zones in Lebanon According to Sectarian Demographics

Source: Map compiled by Dr Ali H. Shaib.

On social media, many citizens have declared their refusal of the government’s announcement, deeming it ‘regressive’ and unrepresentative of them, and so announced that they will continue their lives and set their appointments in accordance with the customary daylight shift. This disdain was viewed by the Muslim community as an attack. Many even went further and added fuel to the fire by sarcastically encouraging other demands that could be viewed as ‘Islamification’ such as adding the Hijri calendar to official documents, announcing Fridays as national holidays, and adding more Islamic occasions as official holidays.

Considering that a change in something as seemingly trivial as the date of daylight savings has intensified the religious dispute in Lebanon and further polarised the country’s residents, any prospect for efficient conflict-resolution seems far-fetched for the time being. On the one hand, many residents continue to be sucked into the black hole of religious disputes that divide them instead of unifying them under their common struggles. On the other hand, the government seems to have disregarded that many people cannot afford a full meal to break their fast during Ramadan and gathered to postpone the daylight-saving shift to allow people to break their fast an hour earlier. This shows either way that the ruling elite are out of touch with the reality of livelihoods on the ground, that the situation has become entirely beyond their control, or that this is a ploy to distract the people as they pass a clientelist transaction unbothered.

The lack of prioritisation by the government and its apparent unwillingness to change or take decisions for recovery and reform became the subject of mockery, especially on social media. One joke posted on Twitter went as follows: ‘The IMF: time is running out. Berri and Mikati: we’ll change the time’. Another Twitter user joked about the matter with reference to government corruption: ‘Mikati: They say time is more valuable than money. Berri: Really? Let’s steal it’. Yet other users spoke about the issue in a serious manner: ‘The clock debate in Lebanon is a perfect example of how we waste “time” and energy on irrelevant issues’.

Anger, uncertainty, and disbelief are increasingly intensifying among the people of Lebanon as governance strategies continue to fail them and divide them. The question remains – how does a country that falls into a dispute over daylight-saving shifts continue to function? Yet, maybe that is exactly how it functions: as more disputes emerge between the people, the system thrives and persists.

On the 27 March, the council of ministers withdrew their decision and reinstated the daylight-saving shift as of midnight on Wednesday 29 March. Although this resolved the dilemma of different time zones and subdued the religious dispute, it left people questioning their hope for a better Lebanon more than ever before.


The research for this blog was supported by the AHRC/MENA SP Network (AH/T008067/10, via the project ‘Livelihoods Networks and Political Experience in Beirut, Lebanon’. The author is very grateful for their support.


[To read more on this and everything Middle East, the LSE Middle East Centre Library is now open for browsing and borrowing for LSE students and staff. For more information, please visit the MEC Library page.]

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About the author

Rahaf Zaher

Rahaf Zaher is a research assistant at RELIEF Centre/ PROCOL Lebanon led by the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) at University College London. Her research focuses on the relationship between livelihoods and politics in Ras Beirut where she conducted extensive fieldwork. She tweets at @rahoufz

Posted In: Lebanon

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