SAMI MOUBAYED The handwriting has been on the wall since 11 ministers collectively resigned from the cabinet of outgoing Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri on January 14, making it unconstitutional. All of them were members of the Hezbollah-led Opposition, objecting to Hariris refusal to do anything about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) charged with investigating the 2005 murder of his fathers, former premier Rafik al-Hariri. The Opposition claims the politicised STL is an Israeli project, targeting the arms and future of Hezbollah. Under intense Syrian-Saudi Arabian lobbying they gave Hariri several exit strategies, and plenty of incentives, including a guarantee that he would be empowered and maintained as prime minister of Lebanon if he halted the proceedings of the controversial court. Hariri refused and as a result his premiership came crashing down on January 25, only 14 months after he assumed office at the head of a unity government. The man named to replace him is expected to make ending the STL a priority, and he is strongly backed by the Lebanese Opposition, which includes Hezbollah, Michel Aouns Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Party of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. His name is Najib Mikati, a 55-year old Lebanese billionaire from Tripoli who is no newcomer to Beirut politics. Educated at the prestigious American University of Beirut (AUB), he ventured into business in the 1980s and co-founded Investcom with his brother Taha. This has since grown into a telecommunications empire with investments in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. In 2006, he sold it to South Africas MTN Group for $5.5 billion and at present serves as its vice chairman. According to Forbes, he is estimated to be worth $2.6 billion; Saad al-Hariris worth stands, according to the same magazine, at $1.6 billion. Mikati ranks number 446 on the worlds richest people list, while Hariri stands at number 552. There are many reasons for the imbalance between the men, with Mikati seen as more of a heavyweight than Hariri. One is that Rafik al-Hariris wealth was divided among his family on his death in 2005 and is not solely in the hands of Saad. Hariri has also spent plenty of his money on politics in order to build a power base for himself in Beirut. A third point is that Najib Mikati is a shrewd self-made billionaire whereas Hariri inherited his wealth. In 1998, Mikati became minister of public works. He then ran for parliament and won a seat for Tripoli in 2000. When Hariri was killed in 2005, Mikati was appointed prime minister of a caretaker government by then-president Emille Lahhoud because he was acceptable both to the Hariri team and to the Hezbollah-led Opposition. Mikati held office for 90 days, stepping down in the summer of 2005, when he was replaced by Hariris ally, Fouad al-Siniora. He had one job to carry out - parliamentary elections - and did it with efficiency, being hailed by both allies and opponents alike. On Tuesday, six years later, Mikati returns to the premiership with 68 votes out of 128 in parliament. Hariris team took to the streets of Mikatis native Tripoli on Tuesday in a day of rage, burning tires, creating havoc, and nearly setting the country ablaze. Hariri, pretending to have had nothing to do with the demonstrations, appeared on TV and called on his supporters to remain calm and get off the streets. The message had been heard, loud and clear. Under no circumstances would the March 14 Coalition accept the Mikati government, claiming that it was imposed on them by Hezbollah. But what if one of Hezbollahs allies had been ejected from office with a massive walkout from Hariris ministers? The entire world, including the US, was furious at Hezbollahs move on January 14 but had Hariri been the one to take such a step, then most of the worlds media would have likely remained silent, reporting it as normal conduct in any democracy. The fact that the Syria-backed Opposition acted first is worrying to the West, which sees it as yet another step at empowering Hezbollah in Lebanon. The truth is, however, that Najib Mikati is not a stooge for the Opposition and doesnt take orders from Hezbollah. He was not even their original preferred choice for the job, as they had earlier nominated ex-prime minister Omar Karameh, aged 77, also from Tripoli. Karameh, they believed, needed to be compensated for having been humiliated at the post in 2005 when Hariris team ejected him through massive street demonstrations around parliament. Due to age, this would have been Karamehs last cabinet. Karameh, additionally, hails from a prominent Sunni family that produced two prime ministers (his father and brother) and his personal experience in politics dates back to the late 1980s, long before that of Mikati. Also, given that, like Saad al-Hariri, he is the brother of a slain prime minister, he could come out and say no to the STL, claiming that stability in Lebanon is more important than ostensible justice. If Karameh did it in the 1980s, there was no reason why Hariri could not have done it in 2010. At this stage, all options remain on the table. One is for Hariri to move into the Opposition while Mikati quietly forms a government that would probably abide by the recent Syrian-Saudi Arabian initiative, distancing Lebanon completely from the hated STL. This would be music to the ears of Hezbollah and its allies. Another is for the Hariri team to make life difficult for Mikati, forcing him to decline to form a government. In this case, the second choice would be Karameh. A cabinet cannot be formed, after all, if all parties in Lebanese politics are not proportionately represented. Hariri himself has to figure out what he wants to do in the upcoming period. A break from government could actually do wonders for his career. He would use it to re-build his reputation given that in the opposition one cannot go wrong. Critics say he and his team would finally get the chance to remove masks they have been hiding behind since 2009, claiming they tried to come across as national statesmen rather than politicians. Some Lebanese have already found a new job for the ex-prime minister, sending SMS messages saying: Saad al-Hariri, ejected from his job in Beirut, has nominated himself for an upcoming vacancy as the prime minister of Tunisia .Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria. Asia Times