Lebanon has a new prime minister in the midst of the economic crisis

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Billionaire telecommunications mogul Najib Mikati became Prime Minister of Lebanon on Friday, taking the reins for the...


BEIRUT, Lebanon – Billionaire telecommunications mogul Najib Mikati became Prime Minister of Lebanon on Friday, taking the reins for the third time in a country without a government in more than a year as its population sank deeper into a economic situation abyss.

The formation of Mr. Mikati’s cabinet was announced from the presidential palace after Mr. Mikati and President Michel Aoun signed a decree to formalize it in the presence of the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri.

Renouncing the tradition of reading prepared words, Mikati delivered a moving speech, summing up the suffering of the Lebanese and calling for unity to get the country out of the crisis.

Appearing to be choking, he mentioned mothers who couldn’t find basic pain relievers or infant formula, fathers who couldn’t explain to their children why so many of their peers had fled the country, and workers who had fled the country. had lost their savings in insolvent banks whose salaries were only a fraction of what they were just two years ago.

“The situation is very difficult and we all know it,” Mikati said. “But it is not impossible if we are all united as Lebanese.”

Lebanon, a small turbulent Mediterranean country, is suffering from an economic collapse which, according to the World Bank, could be among the three worst in the world since the mid-1800s. Since the fall of 2019, the national currency has lost more than 90% of its value against the dollar, unemployment has risen spread, businesses closed and prices skyrocketed.

Severe fuel shortages In recent months, all but the richest Lebanese have had to deal with severe power cuts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once famous banking, medical and education sectors have all been hit hard, with professionals fleeing to jobs overseas.

Lebanon has not had a fully empowered government since August last year, when Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resign after a huge explosion in the port of Beirut which caused extensive damage in the Lebanese capital and killed more than 200 people.

The explosion was caused by the sudden combustion of all that remained of the 2,750 tonnes of hazardous chemicals that had been dumped in the port years before. Many Lebanese have seen the explosion and the efforts of powerful politicians to obstruct the investigation of its causes, as the most striking example to date of the country’s deep dysfunction.

Two other nominees dropped out after failing to form governments in Lebanon’s complex sectarian power-sharing system, and it took over six weeks for Mikati to succeed, an effort that included more than a dozen of meetings with Mr. Aoun.

Mr Mikati has served as prime minister twice before, most recently from June 2011 to May 2013, an experience which critics say made him part of the political elite that had pushed the country to the ground and a improbable figure to lobby for wide reach. reforms.

Her 24-member cabinet had only one woman, the Minister of Administrative Development. The rest included figures with obvious ties to the country’s main political parties as well as foreigners.

Lebanon has sought help from the International Monetary Fund, the United States, France and other countries, but most of the aid pledges have been made conditional on the formation of a government and the implementation. measures to increase transparency in a country where systematic corruption is a perennial problem.

It was not clear what immediate steps Mikati would take to stem a crisis the causes of which have been piling up for many years, but he said he would seek help from other Arab countries.

Traditionally, countries like Saudi Arabia have invested heavily in and supported favorite political parties in Lebanon, but much of that support has dried up as foreign donors grew weary of the country’s perpetual dysfunction.

One exception is Iran, which continues to financially and politically support Hezbollah, the militant group and political party, which is committed to destroying Israel and which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

Mikati had previously said he would work to implement a framework proposed by France and engage with the International Monetary Fund.

But Lebanon’s current financial difficulties could tie its hands.

An impending problem is the government’s inability to subsidize imports of food, medicine and fuel, which has caused shortages and skyrocketing inflation.

Mr Mikati told reporters the subsidies should go, not because he wanted to get rid of them, but because the government was broke.

“Where are we going to find dollars to subsidize?” We are dry, “he said.” It is not our desire, but we have no reserves or money that allows us to help. “

Lebanon has long been a battleground for influence between the United States and its partners in the region and Iran and the so-called “axis of resistance” that it leads, which includes Hezbollah, Syria and other anti-American forces.

Mr Mikati did not explain how his cabinet would handle this struggle, despite an international showdown over who can help solve the country’s electricity problems.

Iran has sent tankers that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah says will ease the country’s power issues. U.S. officials have warned that accepting fuel from Iran or Hezbollah could result in sanctions, and are working to put in place a deal whereby Lebanon would receive electricity produced with Egyptian gas and transmitted from Jordan to Syria.

It’s still unclear if the plan will work or when it will kick off.

Mr. Mikati, 65, has been a well-known figure in Lebanese business and politics for decades. A company he co-founded with his brother has international investments in telecommunications, real estate and other sectors, contributing to his net worth of $ 2.8 billion, according to Forbes.

A Sunni Muslim from the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, he has held various ministerial portfolios in addition to his previous terms as Prime Minister and is a member of the Lebanese Parliament.

Hwaida Saad contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Lebanon has a new prime minister in the midst of the economic crisis
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