Hassan Nasrallah seeks to calm tensions in Lebanon day before Lebanon begins talks to decide on next prime minister.
|Saad Hariri has ruled out joining a government headed by a candidate appointed by Hezbollah – or Mikati [EPA]|
Lebanese tycoon Najib Mikati, who clinched the backing of enough MPs to be named prime minister, will face the daunting task of forming a government if sworn in, as a political rift threatens to tear his country apart.
Sunni Muslims, who view Mikati as a Shia-chosen candidate for the post reserved for their community, have responded with angry and at times violent protests.
The day before his nomination, Mikati spoke of being “one hand” in the interest of Lebanon, saying, “for me there is no difference between anyone. I extend my hand to everyone, I’m for the benefit and interest of Lebanon and all Lebanese without excluding anyone, and with no revenge policies.”
Mikati emerged as a candidate supported by Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, after Hezbollah successfully toppled former prime minister Saad Hariri’s unity government.
Mikati, a former prime minister, has a reputation as a moderate who enjoys good ties with neighbouring Syria, Lebanon’s former power-broker that is steadily regaining its influence.
The crisis candidate
Fifty-five-year-old Mikati first broke into the local political scene in 1998 and was last elected to parliament in 2009 as an ally of Hariri.
Mikati, who hails from the Sunni bastion of Tripoli in north Lebanon, was first appointed minister of transport and public works in 1998. In 2000, he beat his fellow Tripoli native Karameh in a legislative vote, landing himself a seat in parliament while still serving in government.
The Rafiq al-Hariri’s assassination in 2005 resulted in a wave of rage among Lebanon’s anti-Syrian communities and sparked mass protests that forced the resignation of Omar Karameh’s Damascus-backed government.
Mikati stepped up and pledged to fire security officials and the public prosecutor in the aftermath of the killing, which secured him the support of Lebanon’s mourning Sunnis.
Within two weeks, he had formed a slimline 14-member government made up mainly of technocrats. Mikati was succeeded three months later by Fuad Siniora.
Today, he says he is a candidate of consensus and has vowed to reach out to all parties, at a time when Hezbollah and Hariri are going head to head over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
The UN-backed STL is investigating Rafiq al-Hariri’s murder, and this month filed a draft indictment for review.
The government collapse capped a long-running dispute over the STL, which Hezbollah has said will indict its members, warning of grave repercussions.
A wealthy outsider
Unlike many Lebanese leaders, Mikati, a self-made telecoms billionaire, does not hail from one of the many political dynasties, rendering him a more likely compromise candidate.
Mikati sold his telecoms interests to South Africa’s MTN Group for $5.5 bn in 2006, owns the M1 international investment holding group as well as French fashion line Faconnable, and has major real estate investments.
Forbes magazine in 2010 estimated his net worth at $2.5 bn, making him one of Lebanon’s richest men. He ties for rank 374 on the Forbes list of billionaires with his brother and business partner Taha.
Born on November 24, 1955, Mikati is a graduate of the American University of Beirut’s business school and also studied at the prestigious universities of INSEAD (an international business school) and Harvard.
He is married with three children.