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Billionaire Najib Mikati to Form Lebanon’s New Government

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, speaks to journalists after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, July 26, 2021.

Billionaire telecoms tycoon Najib Mikati has been appointed as Lebanon’s new designate prime minister tasked with forming a cabinet of specialists to carry out reforms required by the international community to unlock badly needed funds for the crisis-wracked country—something that dogged his predecessor for nearly a year. But analysts say that Mikati may also struggle despite his claims that he has “international and American guarantees that Lebanon will not collapse.”

The value of Lebanon’s beleaguered currency gained vis-a-vis the dollar from 22,000 to 16,500 pounds on the news of Najib Mikati’s appointment Monday.

But questions remain whether he can pull off the formation of a cabinet. He failed to receive support from Lebanon’s major Christian parties. Meanwhile, Hezbollah deputy Mohamad Raad downplayed whether Mikati could quickly form a new cabinet or secure the political agreement required on its makeup.

Lebanese analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut spoke with VOA.

"The situation is Lebanon is quite tense," she said. "The appointment of Mikati is not welcomed by the general people. People are pointing out that the nitrate that caused the explosion of Beirut came to Lebanon in 2013 while he was prime minister. Ghada Aoun, public prosecutor for Mount Lebanon, accused Mikati of corruption. Eight months ago, he is accused of being corrupt. He’s coming to form a government. I don’t think there will be an agreement on a government soon.

Former Carnegie scholar Sami Moubayed told Dubai’s Gulf News newspaper that Gebran Bassil, the ambitious son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun “wants to run in the October 2022 presidential elections where he hopes to replace” Aoun.

Moubayed said that Bassil views the 65-year-old Mikati as “too powerful and too independent” and “would have a hard time controlling him or influencing his decision when it is time to elect a new president.”

Still, Mikati won the majority backing of the Lebanese parliament. He told the press afterwards that he knows his “limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. We do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country.” But critics have called Mikati “a Hezbollah puppet.” And Lebanon’s protesters have once again been denied a prime minister from outside what many call “the corrupt political elite.”

The Carnegie Middle East Center’s Mohanad Hage Ali told the UK Guardian newspaper that “corruption allegations from the last time Mikati was prime minister still have not been addressed” and pointed to a “housing loan scandal”—a charge Mikati denies.

Sami Moubayed noted that Mikati, a former prime minister and lawmaker, is also “acceptable to all regional players, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.”

With a cabinet formation, Mikati has promised to tackle an international roadmap to unlock billions of dollars in pledged donor funds and to try to bring Lebanon back from the brink of economic and social disaster.