Profile: Najib Mikati

Najib Mikati (24 November 2011) Najib Mikati is seen as a relatively neutral figure who is acceptable to key regional power brokers

Najib Mikati, a wealthy Sunni businessman, has been appointed Lebanon's prime minister-designate and asked to form a new government after winning the support of a majority of members of parliament.

Nominated for the post by the Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah after the collapse of the national unity government on 12 January, Mr Mikati has told the BBC he is a moderate who is dedicated to the unity of Lebanon.

But the outgoing Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has refused to serve in any Hezbollah-led administration, and his supporters have staged protests across the country against what they called a coup by the Iran and Syria-backed group.

Hezbollah toppled Mr Hariri after he refused to end co-operation with the UN tribunal investigating the assassination of his father, Rafik, in 2005. Hezbollah members have reportedly been implicated.

Mr Mikati is seen as a relatively neutral figure who is acceptable to key regional power brokers like Syria and Saudi Arabia, and to interested players watching from further afield, including France. The US, however, has expressed concerns about the influence of Hezbollah.

Billionaire brothers

Born in the northern city of Tripoli in 1955, Mr Mikati studied at the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he gained a bachelor's degree as well as an MBA, at the Insead business school in France and Harvard University in the US.

During his studies, he founded the company, M1 Group, with his elder brother Taha. They initially focused on the construction industry, but in 1982 - at the height of Lebanon's civil war - saw an opportunity in the emerging telecommunications market and set up Investcom.

Najib Mikati in a Lebanese army vehicle near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon (1999) Mr Mikati's political career began in the late 1990s when he became minister of public works

Investcom soon became a major mobile phone operator, owning a number of companies around the world, including Cellis in Lebanon.

After its shares were listed on both the London and Dubai stock exchanges in 2006, Investcom was bought for $5.5bn by MTN Group, Africa's largest mobile-phone operator. M1 became its second-largest shareholder.

M1 is today a holding company run by Taha's son, Azmi, which has interests in telecommunications, real estate, retail, transport, banking, and oil and gas. It owns the Swiss airline, Baboo, and the French fashion line, Faconnable.

In 2010, Forbes estimated Mr Mikati's net worth at $2.5bn, making him one of Lebanon's richest men. His brother is also worth $2.5bn.

Consensus candidate

Although he had already been involved in national economic planning, Mr Mikati's political career began in 1998 when he was appointed to the Lebanese cabinet as both minister of public works and transport.

The following year, he hit the headlines after the Israeli air force bombed a power plant not far from the presidential palace. Condemning the Israeli "escalation", he stressed that the government would continue to support the Hezbollah-led "resistance" to the occupation of southern Lebanon.

Posters of Najib Mikati in Tripoli (May 2009) Mr Mikati represents the northern city of Tripoli in the Lebanese parliament

In 2000, he was first elected to Lebanon's parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, as one of the five representatives for Tripoli.

The poll win and his close ties to Syria saw Mr Mikati tipped as a rival to fellow businessman Rafik Hariri for the premiership, which under Lebanon's political system is always given to a Sunni. But he declined, saying the post was "not appropriate for me now", and he was not reappointed in the subsequent cabinet reshuffle.

In October 2004, Rafik Hariri resigned as prime minister after declining to form a new government that would face international pressure over Syria's interference in Lebanese affairs. The following February, he was killed by a massive truck bomb as his motorcade drove through Beirut.

Damascus was initially blamed for the killing, and mass protests eventually led to both the resignation of Rafik Hariri's pro-Syrian successor, Omar Karami, and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after 29 years.

Despite being a family friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Mr Mikati was nominated in April 2005 for the post of prime minister by MPs from the anti-Syrian opposition because he had pledged to ensure elections were held, not to stay in power, and to sack Lebanon's security chiefs.

As promised, he did not stand in the polls that June which broke Syria's hold on parliament, and was succeeded by an ally of Saad Hariri.

'Moderate'

Four years later, however, Mr Mikati was re-elected to parliament. He did not serve in the national unity government formed by Saad Hariri after five months of political deadlock, but remained an influential figure.

After Hezbollah and its allies brought about the collapse of the government in January, Mr Hariri insisted that he would stay on as prime minister.

However, after the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt switched his allegiance away from Mr Hariri, the caretaker prime minister and his allies in the 14 March Movement were unable to block the candidacy of Mr Mikati.

After meeting President Michel Suleiman on Monday, Mr Mikati promised to reach out to all parties if his appointment was confirmed.

"We are all one hand for the sake of Lebanon," he told reporters.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Mikati insisted that although he needed the votes of Hezbollah and its allies, he remained independent.

"I am not at all related to Hezbollah by any means," he said. "I accepted to be prime minister not to create problems but to solve problems.

"I am a moderate guy, I am a moderate politician. I am always at equal distance from everybody. My objective is the interest of Lebanon and the interest of the nation, the international security of Lebanon and especially to have good relationship with the international community," he added.

It is not known if Mr Mikati will end the government's co-operation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), as demanded by Hezbollah. On Sunday, he said any dispute could "be solved only through dialogue".

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