Time Zone Chaos Inevitable in Egypt

I would like to give everyone a heads up about the situation in Egypt. There is likely to be some confusion over the next week or so about what the local time is in Egypt, and it's entirely possible that the computers of the world may be erroneously blamed for the disarray. The responsibility lies entirely with the Egyptian government, who have presented multiple conflicting statements, with no official law or decree published, and are now arguing daily about which branch of government is actually allowed to be in charge of controlling the time zone.

Note: Some of the articles linked below may be in Arabic. If, like me, you do not read Arabic, consider using the Google Translate Plugin within Chrome. It works much better than using the Google Translate site directly, and better than other translator tools I have tried.

Originally, the Egyptian Cabinet announced (on April 29th, 2016) that daylight saving time was to take effect starting July 7th at 24:00 (which is the same as July 8th at 00:00), and that it was to go through "the end of October". This was widely interpreted as meaning it would end on Friday October 28th at 00:00 - as in the past all DST changes in Egypt have occurred on Fridays. This was agreed upon by all key parties in the time zone community, including IANA, Microsoft, and third party sites.

Both IANA and Microsoft released updates accordingly. IANA with TZDB 2016e, and Microsoft with the June 2016 DST/TZ Update. Between the two of these, it is likely that most computers and smartphones will advance their clocks by an hour on the morning of July 8th. Well, at least those that have the updates installed will anyway.

However, two months later on June 27th, with less than two weeks before the previously announced effective date, the Egyptian Parliament voted overwhelmingly to abolish daylight saving time completely.

This has been followed up with many other news reports, including:

  • The Prime Minister denouncing the Parliamentary vote, reportedly stating "daylight saving time, God willing, will be applied"

  • A member of Parliament arguing that it "... is not the right of the Prime Minister [to] approve...", and that "... Parliament is the sole owner of the right in the legislation..."

  • A member of the Cabinet providing a different start date entirely (July 5th) without any clear indication that the Cabinet had reached a different decision. This may have been an error on his part, but the quote was widely republished on multiple news sites and social media, and thus some people are now planning to start DST on July 5th or July 6th (depending on whether you interpret midnight as the start of the day or the end of the day).

  • Multiple arguments back and forth between the two branches about how DST is or isn't going to save them money, and a repeated argument about a $8M fine to IATA, that has not been well described. Also, some proposals to keep DST in effect for 2016, but to abolish it thereafter.

  • The state news agency reporting that DST will indeed start on July 5th, but stating that there is now no specific end-date in mind - and not acknowledging the Parliament's vote at all.

  • See additional updates below.

And of course, the kicker is that even with all of these votes and announcements by the warring parties, there is not a single stitch of official published documentation to be found. Not a single law passed, decree proclaimed, or even any acknowledgement by the State Information Service. There are lots of other things being published - but somehow something as vital as a time change isn't worthy of documentation.

I previously wrote about the issues with short-notice time zone changes, and described what has happened in other countries in the past. I also gave some advice to countries that are making time zone or daylight saving time changes - advice that Egypt certainly has not heard. I'll also quote a member of the IANA TZ community who said it quite well:

If only it were made more clear that there very likely exists a point in time beyond which the costs incurred from having to deal with any particular observance or non-observance of DST are dwarfed by the costs incurred from uncertainty and duplication of effort in the lead-up to and in the wake of last-minute policy changes.

- Tim Parenti
July 1, 2016

At this point, all any of us can really do is monitor the situation and hope that things work themselves out. The best case would be for the start of DST to occur as it was originally announced and implemented in technology - on midnight between July 7th and July 8th.

Either cancelling DST for this year, or moving the start date up, will mean that the clocks on computers and smartphones will not agree. The likelihood of economic impact would increase significantly. Some people will miss important meetings. Some people will miss their flights. It will likely affect stock trading, traffic patterns, and other aspects of society that are time sensitive. Some aspects of this are inevitable no matter what happens, as just like financial markets, uncertainty is never a good thing.

Whatever happens - next time around, please Egypt, announce the change far in advance, in an official published decree or law, and do not deviate from it at the last minute, or even entertain the idea of deviating from it. The turmoil that uncertainty creates is more costly than any potential energy savings.

First Update

July 4th, 2016

On July 4th, just four days before DST would go into effect, the Egyptian Cabinet announced that they would accept the Parliament's decision to abolish DST. While it's good to finally have consensus, the timing is pretty awful. There's just not enough time to create, test, distribute, and install updates for computers and smart phones. Thus it's quite likely that on July 8th, there will be considerable confusion about what time it is.

As a general recommendation, users in Egypt should temporarily disable daylight saving time on their computers and devices, if their devices support doing so. Otherwise, they can choose a nearby UTC+2 time zone that does not use daylight saving time this year. Libya or South Africa are reasonable choices. Eventually, software vendors will distribute the appropriate updates and users can switch back to Egypt time after installing them.

Second Update

July 6th, 2016

  • IANA has published TZDB 2016f in response to this change. It should be available on most Linux distributions and Mac OSX soon. iOS, Android, Java, Python, PHP and many other operating systems and programming platforms will also feed from this, but each has its own individual release cycle and process - so timing will vary.

  • Microsoft has issued a blog post with interim guidance to follow until an update can be issued.

  • Egypt Air issued a press release urging customers to check schedules carefully and arrive at the airport early. (Note that even though pilots and air traffic controllers use UTC, most reservation systems use local times because they interact with consumers. Even if the airlines update everything, times on printed tickets or third-party travel websites may be off.)

  • Many international news agencies have picked up on the cancellation, including a good write-up by the Washington Post. However, few people are yet talking about the problems that are sure to occur on Friday when many computers and clocks change to DST despite the government decision.

  • The story has also been picked up by Reddit and Hacker News.

Third Update

July 6th, 2016

  • I am providing a Windows Registry patch for those that need it.

  • The current time in Egypt is shown below. If the time on your clock is showing an hour ahead, then you need to disable DST, choose a different time zone, or update your system.

Fourth Update

July 7th, 2016

As I'm writing this from the USA, it's July 7th still, but in Egypt it's already in the early hours of July 8th. After the clocks struck midnight, several reports began coming in:

  • Multiple news agencies reported that Apple iPhones switched to daylight time.

  • Another user reported his Samsung Android phone also doing the same thing.

  • One person tweeted that a Google search of "time in Cairo" incorrectly, and noted that timeanddate.com had it correct. I was able to confirm this, and also checked Bing - which had the correct time - see images below:

    Bing Google

Also, there were several reports about comments by a member of the TZ community. Some reports were more accurate than others. The comment in question was the well-established adage:

"Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine!"
(widely attributed to Bob Carter)

In this case, the TZ member who aptly used this quote to describe the Egypt DST situation was absolutely correct, and I stand with him in this regard. However the comment was misinterpreted by several Egyptian outlets as a refusal to help. Other news reports were a bit more accurate. This one is probably the best I could find, and includes additional details. Indeed, a fix was already in progress, and was released by IANA the very next day.

Fifth Update

July 8th, 2016

As expected, there are even more reports of time confusion today:

  • Al-Ahram, the Egyptian state news agency, reports: Egyptians baffled as digital clocks change time despite abolishment of DST

  • A news report describes Emirates Airlines flight 926 from Cairo to Dubai left an hour early, stranding 18 passengers. (My guess is that the flight schedule was based on having an on-time arrival in Dubai.)

  • Another person reported on Instagram that his flight on Royal Jordanian Airlines out of Egypt took off an hour early without him.

  • The Egyptian Independent reports about ICANN. It gets some parts right, but seems to think that ICANN operates servers that control time zones. In reality, ICANN's IANA division simply hosts the tzdata files, and then it's up to the individual software vendors and service providers of the world to incorporate those files into their own offerings.

  • At least one person mentioned on Twitter that his appointments in Google Calendar were not showing at the correct time.

Sixth Update

August 18th 2016

Microsoft has finally released a fix for Windows, in KB3177723. Windows 10 users can simply install the latest OS build to receive the update.

Additional updates will follow as this event unfolds.