“Mikati is like water flowing through the fingers of a hand that can never be picked up. This observation, drawn up by a politician who wished to remain anonymous, sums up the political course of the one to whom we systematically come back when there are no longer any other alternatives. A man difficult to classify politically and who makes sure to maintain cordial relations with everyone.
Engaged in politics for nearly three decades, this 65-year-old parliamentarian is today appointed Prime Minister for the third time in his career. Each time in times of crisis and great tension: in 2005, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri; then in 2011 when he took the head of a government of confrontation with Saad Hariri, which ended up imploding following the deep differences between the Prime Minister and Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Current. Today, the billionaire from Tripoli, one of the leaders of the Sunni community, is faced with an even more delicate situation. He refuses to be at the head of a government content to prepare for the elections, when Lebanon urgently needs reforms. But its room for maneuver is extremely limited: by the street and the opposition who consider it to be an integral part of the system; by the Sunni establishment which will not agree to make any concessions for the formation of the government after the recusal of Saad Hariri; by the Shiite tandem who expect him to play the conductors of a cabinet of national union which operates on permanent compromise; by President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil who have no intention of making his task easier; and finally by the international community, which should increase its pressure and soon announce new sanctions.
“Mikati’s experience was very bitter”
It was because he was considered an acceptable candidate by all parties that Nagib Mikati had been appointed prime minister twice in the past. Previously, he held the Public Works portfolio between 1998 and 2004, which he managed to modernize. In 2005, after the assassination of Rafic Hariri, Omar Karamé was forced to throw in the towel. Mikati then appears as the suitable solution to replace him. The Baron of Tripoli, who owned several companies in Damascus until 2012, maintained close relations with the Syrian regime at the time. He is also very close to the American and French ambassadors of the time in Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman and Bernard Émié. Everything will be played out in Paris, where negotiations will be linked, involving the Saudi King Abdullah ben Abdelaziz and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Saoud el-Faisal, Bernard Émié, Jeffrey Feltman and the Druze leader Walid Joumblatt. Mikati knows he cannot run in the legislative elections scheduled for the same year due to the popularity of the Future Current in the North. So he accepts what he refuses today: to be at the head of a government whose only mission is to supervise the elections and the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
Between 2005 and 2010, Mikati will try not to position himself as an opponent to Hariri, without joining his camp. The break between the two men comes in 2011, after the overthrow of Hariri’s government following the resignation of ministers on March 8. Hezbollah wants a prime minister from its political camp. Omar Karamé is once again approached. But Walid Joumblatt, who says he is ready to collaborate, does not want to appoint a prosyrian. The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party talks with Bashar al-Assad, Nabih Berry and Hassan Nasrallah to reverse the trend, after failing to convince them to find a compromise with Hariri. Joumblatt succeeds in persuading everyone to adopt the Mikati option. At this point, the Druze leader meets Hariri and explains his position to him, while advising him to take a realistic stance and bring Mikati back to his camp. Once appointed Prime Minister, Mikati meets Hariri again. “I am ready to cooperate, do you want to participate in the government? “(Mikati)” No “(Hariri). “Would you recommend something to me?” (Mikati) Silence from Hariri. This is the beginning of the quarrel that will continue throughout Mikati’s mandate and which culminates in the assassination of the head of intelligence of the Internal Security Forces, General Wissam el-Hassan, on October 19, 2012. The Future Current holds Mikati’s government politically responsible for this assassination and oversees protests calling for its downfall. It was then that Mikati went to Aïn el-Tiné to meet Nabih Berry with the intention of resigning. The Head of Parliament advises him to calm down and Mikati turns to him and says: “Your Excellency, it is you who are protecting me and protecting the Sunni Prime Minister from now on. ”
His mandate as head of government takes place in an explosive context, as the Syrian war is raging and Sunito-Shiite tensions are at their height. Mikati tries to enforce the principle of “distancing” but Hezbolllah very quickly puts both feet in Syria. His relations will especially become complicated with Michel Aoun and Gebran Bassil, in particular concerning the files of electricity and that of the appointments. Bassil was then Minister of Energy. A Kuwaiti fund offers a project to build power plants and improve the sector as a whole at a long-term interest rate of 1%. But the president’s son-in-law refuses the option and favors that of power stations. “It was impossible for Mikati to work with the Aoun / Bassil duo,” said a relative of the Prime Minister-designate. The sessions are punctuated by clashes between the Prime Minister and his Minister of Energy. Since then, Michel Aoun no longer wants to hear from Mikati. “Mikati’s experience was very bitter,” confirms a person close to the head of the CPL. Mikati eventually resigned in March 2013 due to the feud between Hezbollah and CPL over the extension of Ashraf Rifi’s term as Director General of the Internal Security Forces.
“Mikati is not Hariri”
Mikati and Hariri may not be on the same wavelength, their common experiences with the Aounists will eventually bring them together. At least in appearance. “They both think they are more legitimate than the other for the job,” says a Sunni baron who knows them well. Mikati is now reappointed, following a year of government vacuum because of the failure of two personalities named before him to carry out their task: Moustapha Adib first, who is one of the former advisers of Nagib Mikati, and Saad Hariri second. Since the resignation of Hassane Diab in August 2020 in the wake of the double explosion of the port of Beirut, Mikati and Hariri believe that only one of them should be the Prime Minister designate, and they would never have spoken frankly during the meetings of former heads of government, according to their sources. The French, for their part, have preferred the Mikati option from the start of their initiative, which explains, initially, the appointment of its former chief of staff Moustapha Adib. A version denied by Mikati who assures that Adib’s choice was Hariri’s. When the head of the Future Current nominates himself as a candidate, after Adib’s challenge, Mikati grimaces. He suspects Hariri of having willfully toast the Adib option knowing that the task of forming a government will be most complicated. He didn’t think so well put it.
Once again a spare wheel, Mikati accepted the position on a few conditions: that of benefiting from international support, of being supported by the Sunnis and of obtaining the vote of the Current of the Future. The last two are met, but with regard to the first, there is nothing to confirm it. “The Mikati designation does not change anything. Everything that is happening is just a way to buy time until the elections and the great collapse which will force the Lebanese people to be convinced of the need for international intervention, ”said an Arab diplomat. And without even going as far as international, the local knot is still far from being settled, since it is now a question of getting along with Michel Aoun. “The French advised Mikati to communicate with Bassil (which Hariri refused to do) and if there is no agreement, he can present the version he deems appropriate, with the French promise to apply pressure on Aoun and his son-in-law ”, assures a European diplomat. But everyone is aware that the game is far from won. “Mikati is not Hariri. Either he quickly forms a government, or he will recuse himself, ”predicts the close relative of the Prime Minister-designate.