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Lebanon crisis

Out with the old, in with the old: Lebanon’s ‘new’ prime minister

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Lebanon’s Najib Mikati, a billionaire, was designated by the country’s president on Monday to form a new government.

This won’t be Mikati’s first rodeo as Lebanon’s premier. He was briefly the caretaker prime minister following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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Mikati was again tapped to be the prime minister in 2011 after Hariri’s son, Saad, had his government toppled by Hezbollah and its allies.

He had experience in the local political scene while serving as Public Works and Transportation minister before heading the government for the first time.

While the business tycoon is no stranger to allegations of corruption, charges he continuously denies, the Tripoli native has often been accepted by most political parties in Lebanon.

But the challenge of forming a badly needed government in Lebanon may prove to be more difficult this time around.

Mikati will be the third prime minister to try to form a government under President Michel Aoun. Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement - headed by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil - refused to cooperate with Saad Hariri as he tried to form a government for the last eight months.

Before Hariri, Lebanon’s Ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib also saw his attempts to form a non-partisan government made up of independent experts hindered by Hezbollah and Aoun.

Former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and PM-designate Najib Mikati greet each other in Beirut, July 25, 2021. (Reuters)
Former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and PM-designate Najib Mikati greet each other in Beirut, July 25, 2021. (Reuters)

After being designated by Aoun on Monday, Mikati said he had “no magic wand” but expressed confidence that he would be able to lead Lebanon out of one of the worst situations it has ever experienced.

In order to do so, Mikati will need the help of the international community. On Monday, he said he had “guarantees” from abroad that would aid Lebanon. He did not elaborate.

The 65-year-old will look to use his global ties to garner support.

Despite initially allying himself with the Iran-backed Hezbollah and pro-Syria parties, Mikati has shifted his stance to become closer to Saad Hariri in a bid to portray himself as a centrist figure.

Ties with the international community, Syria’s Assad

Mikati and his brother Taha have made billions of dollars from the telecoms industry and investments in Abu Dhabi, Africa and other Middle Eastern countries.

It was recently reported that Mikati’s M1 Group bought into a telecoms operator in Myanmar for $105 million.

According to Forbes, M1 Group has investments in South African telecom firm MTN, fashion retailer Pepe Jeans, and real estate in New York, London and Monaco.

The Mikati brothers had a lucrative contract with one of Syria’s biggest telecoms companies, but the pair reportedly had a falling out with the Assad regime following the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011.

Forbes estimates Mikati’s net worth to be $2.7 billion.

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