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Lebanon's Mikati, billionaire and veteran premier

AFP logo AFP 26/7/2021 AFP
Najib Mikati wearing a suit and tie: Najib Mikati, seen in this 2013 handout photo, is a Lebanese parliamentarian and two-time premier who was picked to form a new cabinet on Monday after months of stalled negotiations © - Najib Mikati, seen in this 2013 handout photo, is a Lebanese parliamentarian and two-time premier who was picked to form a new cabinet on Monday after months of stalled negotiations

Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman and Lebanon's latest premier-designate, is a political veteran viewed by some as emblematic of the crony politics that steered the country towards collapse.

The parliamentarian and two-time premier who was picked to form a new cabinet on Monday after months of stalled negotiations, returns to power amid a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the world's worst since the mid-19th century.

The 65-year-old Sunni Muslim who hails from Tripoli, a northern city and one of Lebanon's poorest, was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment -- a charge he denies. 

In Tripoli, which emerged as a hub for a 2019 protest movement demanding the removal of politicians deemed inept and corrupt, Mikati was a favourite target for demonstrators who ripped his portraits off walls and even attacked his home. 

Mikati is considered to be Lebanon's richest man and one of the wealthiest in the Middle East, with a net worth of $2.7 billion according to Forbes.

Along with his brother and business partner Taha, the magnate owns the M1 Group, an international investment holding group with shares in South Africa's telecom MTN Group and French fashion line Faconnable, and has interests in real estate, oil and gas and other industries.

Earlier this month, Mikati's M1 Group purchased one of the largest mobile phone operators in Myanmar, with critics accusing the company of having ties to the military junta.

At home, some see Mikati as a symbol of a politico-business elite that enshrined a system of clientelism and cronyism in the country's politics.

He first emerged as prime minister in 2005, when he headed a three-month interim government formed in the wake of the murder of former premier Rafic Hariri. 

In 2011, he came back at the helm of a government dominated by the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement and which had to deal with the spillover effects of the Syrian war next door.

Critics branded Mikati, who was known to have good relations with Damascus, as a Hezbollah puppet -- an image he repeatedly tried to dispel. 

In 2013, he resigned amid deep polarisation between the country's political camps over the conflict in Syria and as infighting in his own government led to a paralysing political impasse.

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 and Harvard.

Along with his brother Taha, he founded his business empire in 1982, selling satellite phones at the height of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. 

The business duo then expanded into Africa, where they built cellphone towers in Ghana, Liberia and Benin, among other countries.

Mikati first entered Lebanese politics in 1998 when he was appointed minister for transport and public works, a post he held until 2004, under three consecutive cabinets.

He first landed himself a seat in parliament in 2000, and was voted back in the last legislative elections in 2018.

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Plus d'infos : AFP

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