In Lebanon everything is politicized. The country’s politicians will always find a way to make even the smallest thing into a huge political and sectarian scandal.
However, this time they might have outdone themselves as they found a way to politicize something that no one thought would be even possible: time.
Last week, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri announced that daylight savings time, set to begin last Sunday at midnight, would be postponed until late April to avoid inconveniencing any of the Muslims fasting for Ramadan.
This quickly spiraled as Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil said that he would refuse to abide by the decision. Soon after, an increasing number of news outlets, universities, the Maronite church and more announced that they would be changing time at midnight.
Mikati, though, refused to back down and, on Sunday, Lebanon was split into two time zones.
The decision would not last, however, as, following a cabinet meeting on Monday, Mikati announced that Lebanon would officially begin observing daylight savings time within 48 hours, bringing an end to this standoff over the time.
This entire “crisis” was probably one of the stupidest in Lebanon’s history, as it was over a nonissue that the politicians decided to turn into an ordeal just to score some cheap political points. It was stupid to postpone the time change as it did not really change much of anything since the sun does not set any earlier or later depending on the time, and it was stupid to oppose it because it did nothing except stir sectarian tensions and waste everyone’s time for a couple of days.
If the politicians want to be mad about something, maybe they should try the port explosion investigation that has been postponed indefinitely. Or if that is a bit too controversial, how about showing some frustration over the ongoing economic crisis and how most of the country is being forced into poverty? A bit too complicated? Then maybe try showing some outrage over the fact that Lebanon has not had a president in 147 days and there does not seem to be any indication that there will be one elected anytime soon.
If the country’s politicians can get so worked up over something as trivial as the time, then they should be up in arms about everything else happening in the country right now.
It gets worse: Last Thursday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that Lebanon is on track toward hyperinflation unless the country implements reforms.
This statement came after a visit by representatives of the organization to Lebanon as negotiations between Lebanon and the IMF over a desperately needed bailout package remain stalled.
While the IMF denies rumors that it is going to walk away from the negotiating table, representatives have expressed frustration with their Lebanese counterparts, and particularly the lack of effort to meet the terms set out by the IMF.
It is unclear how much longer the IMF will remain patient.
To the streets: Protesters in Lebanon clashed with security forces on Wednesday as they tried to storm the government headquarters in downtown Beirut.
These clashes came as the lira surpassed 140,000 to $1, a record low, before it recovered to around 108,000.
Lebanon’s economic crisis, now in its fourth year, has continued to worsen as the country’s politicians have made no effort towards implementing any sort of reforms.
In response, protesters have occasionally blocked roads as living conditions worsen.
Domestic violence: A woman, Zainab Ali Zaiter, was murdered over the weekend by her husband after he shot her more than 10 times.
Reportedly, she was murdered because she was in some photographs not wearing the hijab, which her husband found shameful.
Honor killings are not uncommon in Lebanon, and though they are widely condemned, much like the many other cases of domestic violence in Lebanon that see no justice, perpetrators rarely face any consequences for these senseless crimes.
In the region
Friends again: As has been part of a growing trend, Saudi Arabia has said that it will reopen its embassy in Damascus, marking a major victory for Bashar al-Assad and his government which were largely ostracized only a few years ago.
The reopening of embassies is reportedly set for after the Eid holiday following the conclusion of Ramadan.
This thawing in relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria comes just weeks after China helped broker a rapprochement between the Kingdom and Iran.
While Assad is still a long ways away from being accepted internationally again, he is slowly being welcomed, begrudgingly, back into the fold.
Crisis over reform: A proposed judicial reform bill by the far-right Netanyahu government has continued to spark controversy and mass protests throughout the country as the legislation works to divide Israel.
Opposition to the proposed legislation has grown, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaking out against the bill only to be fired soon after by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Schools and workers’ unions have said that they will close and go on strike if the bill continues to be pushed forward.
Netanyahu is in a lose-lose situation with this bill. If he continues to push forward with it, there could be a rebellion from within the moderate ranks of his own party and if he postpones the legislation too much, then the more extreme members of his coalition could pull their support for the government.
Iran, US clash in Syria: Suicide drones and missiles, allegedly belonging to Iran, struck US positions in Syria last week, killing a defense contractor and injuring others.
In response, the US conducted air strikes against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps positions.
This marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US who have been on increasingly bitter terms since then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal.
While there have been negotiations to resume the agreement, they have been largely stalled since last year.
Out of jail: A dual Saudi-American national, Saad Almadi, was released from a Saudi prison on Tuesday after spending around 16 months in jail.
Almadi was sentenced to 19 years in prison for allegedly supporting terrorist ideology. Their proof? Tweets he had posted years prior that were critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The Saudi government has cracked down on dissent more over recent years as MBS has increasingly consolidated power.
This has included individuals who have written posts critical of the Saudi leader, many of whom remain in prison.
What we’re reading
Ignored: When Iran and Saudi Arabia announced that they would be restarting diplomatic relations, it sent a shiver of hope throughout the region. However, as I found, Lebanon should not be too hopeful as Saudi Arabia has little interest in getting involved in Lebanon anymore.
Lebanon to the rescue: When Turkey and Syria were struck by a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake on February 6, the countries received help from all over the world. NOW’s Robert McKelvey wrote about the Lebanese aid groups that came to Syria’s aid in their time of need.
Putting the pieces back together: The al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has been the focal point of much of the conflict in the holy city. The New York Times’s Raja Abdulrahim wrote about the struggle to repair the sacred structure amid the Israeli occupation.
Podcasts: One of the most influential Lebanese television hosts is Zaven Kouyoumdjian. In the latest episode of the Beirut Banyan, Ronnie Chatah spoke with Kouyoumdjian about his books, career and the impact that he has had during his time hosting shows.
Sarde after dinner is going back to where they started with Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber sitting down once more with their very first guest in 2020, Gino Raidy, where the trio discuss the evolution of Raidy’s political views since they last spoke, the role that Lebanon’s diaspora has on the country’s politics and what has been achieved since the 2019 uprising.
Until next week, follow NOW Lebanon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. And Happy Ramadan to all of those taking part!