Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

LEBANON: World's richest man happy to be in Lebanon, not shelling out

March 17, 2010 | 11:42 am

Carlos-Slim-Helu.widec When you're the world's richest man, you may find that you suddenly have more extended family than you ever imagined.

But Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu seemed happy with the warm reception he's received in Lebanon, the ancestral homeland of his parents, even though he didn't seem overly eager to open up his wallet for the old country.

"I came to know the country better," he said when asked at an American University of Beirut forum Wednesday whether he was looking into local investments. "But I have seen very clearly that Lebanon is capable of sustaining growth in most economic areas, and I think Lebanon will grow."

Helu, who recently was named the world's wealthiest man by Forbes magazine, has received the welcome of a conquering hero. 

Last week, Helu met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and hundreds of students, faculty and guests packed into the American University of Beirut's School of Business to hear the cellphone-service mogul speak about the importance of knowledge and technology as well as recount his personal story.

Helu owns huge swaths of Mexican industries and became known in the United States in 2008 when he invested $250 million in the New York Times, becoming one of the paper's largest shareholders.

Helu emphasized support for education and job creation but also made clear that his trip to Lebanon was of a personal nature and did not indicate he would be investing in the country.

A small group of masked protesters momentarily interrupted Helu's speech by unfurling a large banner with a slogan in broken Spanish reading: "por todos todo, por nosotros nada," an apparent reference to the Mexican Leftist Zapatista slogan "para todos todo, para nosotros nada" or "everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves."

Security guards dispersed the protesters within minutes.

Helu, whose grandfather opened the first Arabic press in Mexico, said Lebanon had a lot of potential but also cited serious infrastructural problems in the fields of electricity, telecommunications and Internet service, which, he suggested, could be solved by privatization.

Business students who attended the lecture seemed pleased but not overly impressed.

"It was kind of personal, but he had a few interesting ideas," said Jason Bedrossian, a college junior studying accounting. "He was trying to be diplomatic."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Carlos Slim Helu, the world's richest man. Credit: Associated Press