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Egypt’s hasty goodbye to daylight saving time

On 18 April, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf announced that Egypt would no longer participate in Daylight Saving Time (DST), the practice of putting the clocks forward an hour during summer seasons so that sunlight hours last later afternoon.

Little explanation was offered as to why this decision was made aside from reference to a popular poll, which was not widely advertised and drew little participation, and a statement from the Ministry of Electricity claiming that energy savings during DST are negligible.

But in practice, there is actually far more to daylight saving time than energy savings – such as the various health, social and lifestyle aspects. Many people rely on DST to get that extra daylight hour after work during the summer. Others claim that road fatalities actually decrease during DST due to extended visibility in the late afternoons.

Whatever the perspective may be, the decision was made very hastily for apparent reasons that did not recognize what DST might actually mean to the people of Egypt.

DST may serve little purpose to the community as a whole, but as a nation, decisions like these should perhaps be made with more research than an opinion poll of a tiny sample of the population.

When asked about consideration for the other benefits of DST aside from energy savings, Abssam Abouleila, media advisor for the Ministry of Electricity said, “all other reasons are irrelevant. Abroad it works because people respect time, but here everybody is already late, so one hour here or there makes no difference. They will be late anyway.”

There is also a growing rumor that the cancellation was due to Ramadan falling during the summer this year. Last year, the clock changes immediately preceding Ramadan confused people and interfered with their fasting schedules. But surely this confusion could be avoided by changing the clocks weeks before the fast, rather than by obliterating daylight saving all together.

Some have also said that DST confuses people and that it was cancelled for reasons of simplicity. But many people were assuming the clocks would change in spring as they have done for decades. For some, their electronic gadgets changed automatically, causing far more confusion than usual.

“When I got to the airport it was a mess,” said Bosaina al-Kahal, an Egyptian who was flying back to her job in Dubai. “Not only was everybody confused about what time it was, some airlines were unable to check people in because the computers had registered their flights as having already left.”

So if energy savings are next to negligible, and the practice of abruptly deciding to cancel DST this year resulted in further confusion and inconvenience than usual, does that not render the decision as potentially misinformed?

Historically, arguments can be made for both sides. Tourism, business, retailing and sports interests have always favored daylight saving, while agricultural (due to the darker mornings) have opposed it. But it appears that in practice, none of these factors were taken into consideration.

Abouleila concluded that DST is, “a minor issue that need not be focused on nor scrutinized. It doesn’t really matter in the scope of things going on in Egypt today.”

But if it really holds little significance in light of the political turmoil consuming Egypt, why focus on it and disrupt millions of lives and confuse everybody to avoid something as trivial as a time change?

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