Lebanon's Najib Mikati: Forbes tycoon turns PM candidate

AFP , Tuesday 25 Jan 2011

Former Lebanese premier Najib Mikati gestures after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, 24 January 2011. (AP)

Lebanese tycoon Najib Mikati, who clinched the backing of enough MPs on Tuesday to be named premier, will face the daunting task of forming a government if sworn in, as a political rift threatens to tear his country apart.

Anger is spreading among Sunni Muslims, who view Mikati as a Hezbollah candidate for the post reserved for their community and are taking to the streets in increasingly violent protests against his likely appointment.

A self-made telecoms billionaire, MP Mikati emerged this week as a candidate supported by Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, after the Shia party toppled outgoing premier Saad Hariri's unity government earlier this month.

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.

But his popularity lags behind that of Saudi- and Western-backed Hariri among Lebanon's Sunnis.

The 55-year-old first broke into the local political scene in 1998 and was last elected to parliament in 2009 as an ally of Hariri.

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.

The UN-backed STL is investigating the 2005 murder of Hariri's father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, 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.

Saad Hariri has ruled out joining a government headed by a candidate appointed by Hezbollah, like Mikati.

The tall, clean-cut Mikati emerged as a leader in the wake of Rafiq Hariri's murder, when he headed a three-month interim government in 2005 during the worst political turmoil to grip Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The Hariri assassination 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. Three months later he was succeeded by Fuad Siniora.

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.

He is a major shareholder in South Africa's telecom MTN Group, 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 billion dollars, 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 and Harvard.

He is married with three children.

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