On Monday, Egypt's cabinet announced that it was abolishing daylight saving time this year. Such a move may strike many around the world as logical: The practice of moving the clocks forward by one hour during the summer months so that the evening daylight lasts longer is widespread throughout much of the world, but it is surprisingly controversial. The criticisms range from the mundane ("I'm tired and grumpy!") to the more serious (farms can miss out on a day of valuable morning light).
But Egypt's experience presents a bewildering lesson for the rest of the world. It was only last week that Magdi al-Agati, Egypt's minister of parliamentary affairs, had confirmed that daylight saving time was due to be restored July 8. The cancellation of this plan was only announced three days before the new time was due to start. Now businesses that had been planning for the change have been thrown completely out of the loop: EgyptAir, the country's national airline, has been advising passengers to arrive at the airport early for flights and to expect delays. The company's chairman, Safwat Mosallam, has suggested that EgyptAir could face losses of $2 million.
Egypt's history with daylight saving time is long and complicated. Some accounts say that the Ancient Egyptians practiced their own informal variations on the practice. In the 20th century, the country's British colonial rulers – modern proponents of moving the clocks forward for summertime – imposed the practice during World War II. It was dropped after the war, but then subsequently brought back under then-President Hosni Mubarak.
When Mubarak was ousted in 2011, the system was ended, but it was brought back in 2014 in a bid to save energy at a time of power cuts. The reintroduction evidently caused some confusion in the country: Red Sea resorts opted to allow their guests to stay on "resort time" and ignore government-ordered daylight savings, the Economist reported in 2014. Opposition to daylight saving time stemmed not only from the usual complaints but also a desire to move away from both Mubarak's rule and colonialism. In an attempt to ease burden for observant Muslims, the government said that daylight savings would be canceled during Ramadan, enabling those fasting to eat earlier than they would have otherwise – a move that meant the clocks changed four times in less than five months.
In 2015, the government announced that it would suspend the practice until more research could be performed on its benefits. When the government announced that it would be reintroducing the practice for 2016, many Egyptians were exasperated. “This system has proved useless over the years. It only strains our nerves and confuses us,” Nadia Shehata, a schoolteacher, told Gulf News in May. The move for a 2016 daylight savings time was ultimately canceled after Egypt's parliament voted against it.
Egypt's troubled relationship with daylight savings isn't unique. While countries like the United States and Britain have flirted with ending the practice, others have gone through with it – and then pulled back after a backlash to their own plans. The most notorious example is Russia. In 2011, that country's then-President Dimitry Medvedev announced a plan to end daylight savings in the country, in use since the Soviet-era, and shift to permanent summer time. Medvedev's plan also saw two time zones in Russia removed, bringing the total down to nine.
However, the problem hit a snag: In some regions, locals complained that it was still dark at 9 a.m. When Vladimir Putin returned to the president's office in 2014, he announced that Russia would go to permanent winter time and that the time zones would be reintroduced. The whole thing was a costly, pointless exercise in political power, but not as audacious as other politically ordered political shifts: Last year, North Korea even announced it was creating its own time zone.
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