Najib Mikati, the last hope to end Lebanon's crisis

The international community has made aid to Lebanon conditional on the formation of a government that can implement reforms
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REUTERS/STEPHANIE McGEHEE  -   Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati

Lebanon appoints its third prime minister in a year. Billionaire Najib Mikati was appointed yesterday as the Mediterranean country's new prime minister with the aim of ending a crisis that has dragged on since 2019. After an intense day of consultations between the different parliamentary groups, political leaders and independent lawmakers with Lebanon's president, Michel Aoun, to present their bets for the post of prime minister, Mikati finally won the backing of 72 MPs out of the 118 that make up the parliament.

Najib Mikati garnered the majority of support from the country's main political parties. Among those who backed the Sunni businessman's candidacy were Saad Hariri, who resigned on 15 July after being unable to reach an agreement with Aoun to form an executive, and Tammam Salam, Lebanon's prime minister from 2014 to 2016.

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AFP PHOTO/HO/DALATI AND NOHRA - Lebanon's former prime minister-designate Saad Hariri

On the Shia side, the billionaire received the backing of the parliamentary bloc Development and Liberation, led by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri's Amal party, as well as Hezbollah. "Today, with the emergence of indications of the possibility of forming a government, we have nominated Najib Mikati, which reflects the seriousness of our commitment to form a cabinet," Hezbollah leader Mohammad Raad underlined after his meeting with President Michel Aoun as part of binding parliamentary consultations.

The main stumbling block to Mikati's candidacy has been Christian parties. The Lebanese president's party, the Free Patriotic Movement, did not endorse his candidacy and chose not to nominate anyone in the face of expectations that Mikati would win a majority of votes. During his first interview after being appointed prime minister, Mikati said that he understood the position of the Christian parties after their failure to support his nomination and that he did not consider it "personal".

He added that his relationship with them "is excellent and based on respect". Mikati said that Lebanon is about to hold parliamentary elections and therefore he is certain that the different groups "will support me from outside because they want to be in parliament for four years". The Sunni businessman, once appointed prime minister, has the difficult task of forming an executive that satisfies all parties, which is why he has begun consultations with the various parliamentary groups as of today. 

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PHOTO/AFP - Lebanese Hezbollah representative and MP Mohammed Raad (4th R) walks with other members of the group's parliamentary bloc at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon

In his interview with the Lebanese daily en-Nahar, Mikati said he would go to the Baabda Palace as soon as the consultations were over to "start forming a government". "The President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, is serious about saving the country. We are both committed to the constitution and the Taif agreement," the new prime minister stressed. In the same vein, the Sunni businessman said he was in favour of forming a "purely technical" government, far removed from political considerations, in line with the French proposal.

French President Emmanuel Macron presented a roadmap last September, the first point of which called for the creation of a "mission government" that could implement measures to quell the economic crisis in the Mediterranean country, the worst since the end of the civil war in 1990. Lebanon is facing shortages of basic commodities and supplies that have left the country suffering daily blackouts of more than eight hours with more than half of the population living in poverty.

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PHOTO/DALATI & HOHRA via REUTERS - Former Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri meets Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon

The international community has made aid to Lebanon conditional on the formation of a government that can implement reforms. Even the European Union has agreed to create a sanctions regime against Lebanese leaders who it considers to be "blocking" the formation of a government in Lebanon. At the international level, Mikati highlighted US support for Lebanon and spoke of "international and US guarantees" to prevent the country's collapse.

"I felt that the US administration does not want Lebanon to collapse. It has started to provide assistance to the Lebanese army, the fifth foreign army to receive assistance from Washington," Mikati said. The new prime minister said in a brief speech on Monday from Baabda Palace that he had "external guarantees", without which he would not have "accepted this mission".

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AP/BILAL HUSSEIN - Hundreds of Lebanese protesters gathered in downtown Beirut

During the interview with en-Nahar, Mikati also spoke about the Beirut port explosion last August, saying that "it is a disaster that requires great efforts to be dealt with. We want to know the truth about who brought the ammonium nitrate". He also expressed confidence in Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the explosion, of whom he said "he is a man of conscience".

The choice of Najib Mikati as prime minister has not pleased everyone. Mikati was charged in 2019 with corruption for illicit gain through subsidised housing loans, and in Tripoli, the businessman's hometown, there have been demonstrations over his appointment. Dozens of people had already demonstrated outside his residence in Beirut on Sunday night, accusing him of corruption and nepotism. Mikati faces the difficult task of forming a government that can lead the country out of the economic crisis, a mission that his predecessor was unable to complete.