‘We do not expect any privatisation of MEA in 2004, especially under these circumstances in the country. The company is not putting a burden on the government,’ Hout says. The government of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri floated the idea of selling MEA three years ago, when the company was incurring significant losses at the time.

In the past, MEA, which is owned by the central bank, incurred considerable losses due to bad management, overstaffing and the high cost of maintaining offices overseas. In 1998, the bank appointed Hout chairman in an attempt to cut losses. Hout says that he was able to save $27 million a year after management laid off 1,400 surplus employees three years ago in the face of fierce resistance from unions.