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Billionaire Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati Resigns
Two years ago, Forbes asked: Why was telecom billionaire Najib Mikati enmeshing himself in the messy and dangerous world of Lebanese politics? Although heavily criticized by his opponents for being beholden to the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah—a charge he refuted, Mikati was bent on steering Lebanon on a Switzerland-like course of neutrality. He was named prime minister in 2011, replacing fellow billionaire Saad Hariri who lost his seat when Hezbollah members walked out of his cabinet. Mikati announced his resignation today, citing an impasse in his cabinet.
Neither his wealth nor good intentions were enough to keep him in power. Rebellions rippled through Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, toppling dictatorships, and by March 2011, Syrians were demonstrating. Protests that started peacefully devolved into a civil war, as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad responded with increasing brutality.
A Sunni Muslim who espoused moderation in politics, Mikati struggled to keep Lebanon, long subjugated by Syria and deeply divided along sectarian lines, out of the fray. It was a Herculean task. Lebanon’s lack of national cohesiveness doomed his efforts from the start. He had to navigate between Hezbollah, a supporter of the Assad regime, an arms patron, and Lebanon’s Sunni community, which threw its support behind its co-religionists in Syria in their fight against the minority Alawite ruling class.
Mikati came close to resigning twice—last in October 2012, when a powerful car bomb ripped through a densely populated Christian neighborhood of Beirut, killing reportedly at least eight people and wounding nearly 80. The target of the terrorist attack was the head of the intelligence unit of the country’s Internal Security Forces, and a close ally of Hariri, a vocal critic of the Syrian dictatorship.
Although Mikati sought to distance Lebanon from Syria, he once entertained an openly friendly relationship with Bashar al-Assad, before Assad succeeded his father in 2000. Back then, Mikati and his brother Taha, also a billionaire, had successfully established themselves as telecom operators in several African countries through their company Investcom. In 2001, Investcom won a lucrative license to operate a wireless network in Syria with Saudi partners. “Whether [the connection with Assad] helped or not, I can’t really say,” Mikati’s nephew Azmi told Forbes in 2011. “My uncle was uninvolved in the process, and therefore the ties he had did not really matter.”
In 2005, Investcom went public on the London Stock Exchange in what was the largest public offering of a Middle Eastern company. A year later, South Africa’s MTN Group bought the Mikatis’ stake for $5.5 billion, making them the single largest shareholders in MTN. Mikati and his brother are worth $3.5 billion each. (sumber)