The unilateral decision taken by Prime Minister Najib Mikati late last week, following a discussion with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, to postpone daylight saving time for one month sparked controversy and sectarian reactions, especially by the Maronite community.
Mikati’s decision showed how easily Lebanon could slip into more division, a reflection of the political tension stemming from the five-month presidential vacuum.
“Since former President Michel Aoun’s term ended, I have been tirelessly working with a group of ministers, the army, security forces, and…public administration employees to preserve the structure of the Lebanese state, which, if it collapses, becomes very difficult to reconfigure. I have never been a fan of defiance or encroaching on religious authorities,” Mikati said Monday.
“The decision was aimed at (allowing) those fasting during the month of Ramadan (to rest) for an hour without causing any harm to any other Lebanese component,” he said.
“I never imagined that some would consider this a confessional or sectarian decision…I have been struggling under a mountain of accusations and deceptions.
“I steadfastly endured and suffered in silence, but today I place everyone before their responsibilities.
“The easiest thing for me to do is to refrain from holding Cabinet sessions, and the most difficult thing is to continue to bear the responsibility. Every person has a personal endurance level, and mine is running low.
“The main problem is the vacancy in the presidency, and I do not take responsibility for this vacuum. Those responsible are the political and spiritual leaders, primarily those parliamentary blocs that disrupted the quorum during 11 election sessions, and those that pledged not to secure it in subsequent sessions without agreeing on a candidate.”
Mikati stressed that the Sunni community he represents “has always been patriotic…and preserved throughout history the unity of the country and its institutions and (has) worked, through its elites and leaders, to formulate national, non-sectarian projects since Lebanon’s independence.”
He added the announcement to overturn last week’s decision requires “a 48-hour delay to settle some technical matters,” in reference to rescheduling flight times to and from Beirut and scheduling computer servers in institutions and mobile phone networks.
The Lebanese have been divided over the decision. Some private media institutions and educational institutions have refused to abide by Mikati’s decision. Caretaker Minister of Education Abbas Halabi said in a statement Sunday that “daylight saving time remains approved and applied in the educational sector.”
Those who rejected Mikati’s decision argued that amending the daylight saving time requires a Cabinet decision and that Mikati took it unilaterally, which is why the Cabinet convened Monday to discuss the issue exclusively.
The Lebanese Cabinet will also hold a session to approve increases in public sector salaries and to implement an agreement to raise the minimum wage to 4,500,000 Lebanese pounds ($295), increase the transportation allowance to 125,000 Lebanese pounds, and double schooling and family allowances.