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Masri, Munib al- (1934–)

Masri, Munib al-
(1934–)

Palestinian businessman Munib Rashid al-Masri has been described as the wealthiest person in the Palestinian territories. He has played a key role in economic development in the Palestinian Authority and was a close confidant of Palestinian leader yasir arafat.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Al-Masri was born in Nablus in mandatory Palestine, in 1934. He hailed from a prominent Sunni Muslim family in the city, one whose prominence stemmed from its commercial activities and, during the period of Jordanian control of the West Bank (1948–1967), its positions in government as well. Masri traveled to the United States and graduated from the University of Texas in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in petroleum geology, and with an M.A. in geology and government from Sul Ross State University in Texas in 1956.

Masri returned to the Middle East in 1956 and began working with the Phillips Petroleum Company. In 1971 he also established his own engineering and geological services company, which later became known as the Engineering and Development Group (EDGO). In 1963, Masri became head of Phillips operations in Algeria and in 1965 rose to Phillips's chief of operations for the entire Middle East. He also briefly served as minister of public works for the Jordanian government from 1970 to 1971, helping build and repair roads and water infrastructures in Jordan. In 1994 he returned to Nablus from Jordan after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Masri went on to become one of the wealthiest Palestinian businessmen of the second half of the twentieth century, and one who played an important political role within Palestinian politics. He has been particularly important in the realm of economic development and investment in the PA, the Palestinian government established in parts of Gaza and the West Bank in 1994 as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In fact, Masri is the second-largest employer in the PA, after the government itself. His Palestinian Development and Investment Company (PADICO), which he directs, has approximately 35,000 employees, and the Palestine Telecommunications Corporation (PALTEL) employs another 12,000. In 1997 Masri established a Palestinian stock market in Nablus. He also is deputy chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, and sits on the board of the Amman-based Arab Bank.

He also has wielded an important political role, in large part through his friendship with the late Arafat, the longtime chairman of the Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Masri first met Arafat in Algeria in 1963 when Masri worked for Phillips Petroleum there. They remained friends for years. While Masri was a Jordanian cabinet minister in September 1970 he tried to arrange for a meeting between Arafat and Jordan's king, HUSSEIN BIN TALAL, during the bitter fighting between the PLO and the Jordanian army. Arafat refused. Masri remained an important friend and sat on the PLO central council. He was so important to Arafat that the Palestinian leader asked him to become prime minister of the PA when he first created the post in 2003. This time it was Masri who refused. Masri also visited Arafat frequently in the months prior to his death, even giving the ailing leader his medicine and flying to the French military hospital near Paris where Arafat spent his final days.

Shortly after Arafat's death in November 2004, various Fatah members approached Masri and asked him to consider running for PA president. There were reports in 2006 that the Jordanian and Egyptians governments favored getting rid of the Hamas-led PA government, and appointing one of two people to become the new prime minister. One of the names suggested was Masri's. He also was a member of the board of directors of the Palestinian National Fund, the PLO's financial arm.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Munib al-Masri

Birth: 1934, Nablus, mandatory Palestine

Family: Wife, Angela (American); six children

Nationality: Palestinian

Education: B.S. (petroleum geology), University of Texas, 1955; M.A. (geology and government), Sul Ross State University, Texas, 1956

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1956: Begins working for Phillips Petroleum Company
  • 1963: Heads Phillips operations in Algeria
  • 1965: Heads Phillips operations throughout the Middle East
  • 1970: Appointed minister of public works for the Jordanian government
  • 1971: Establishes EDGO
  • 1994: Returns to Nablus after establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA)
  • 2003: Asked by Yasir Arafat to become PA prime minister

Masri also has involved himself in various philanthropic and other public affairs. He helped establish the college of engineering and technology at al-Najah National University in Nablus, as well as the Nablus Rehabilitation Committee (to help rebuild the city after the destruction wreaked upon it during the al-Aqsa intifada that began in 2000). He sits on the board of trustees of the American University of Beirut, helped establish the al-Quds University Investment Fund, and was the first treasurer of the Geneva-based Palestinian Welfare Association.

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

Masri is well known in Palestinian and Middle Eastern business circles as one of the wealthiest and most politically important Palestinian businessmen. He also is credited as someone who made his fortunes outside Palestine but returned after the peace process produced a Palestinian government in an attempt to use his wealth and business skills to develop the area's economy. Masri has not always grabbed the headlines in the way that Palestinian political leaders do, and thus remains unknown to many outside the Middle East. But no one can minimize his importance, particularly as a well-connected Palestinian moderate whose name continues to be floated as a possible leader for the PA.

LEGACY

For all his business and philanthropic projects over the decades, Masri likely will be remembered most for the political and economic role he played in the consolidation of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1993 Oslo Accord signed between Israel and the PLO.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Orme, William A., Jr. "Big Palestinian Holding Company Dominates Development in the West Bank." New York Times (6 May 1999).

Shaked, Ronny. "The Palestinian Rothschild." YnetNews. Updated 27 July 2006. Available from http://www.ynetnews.com.

Urquhard, Conal. "A Man for All Factions." Guardian (10 November 2006). Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk.

                               Michael R. Fischbach

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