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Shoman, Abdul Majeed (1912–2005)

Shoman, Abdul Majeed
(1912–2005)

As chairman and chief operating officer of the Arab Bank, Palestinian banker Abdul Majeed Shoman was a major figure in the financial world and a force in the Jordanian economy. Shoman also served as the first director of the Palestinian National Fund (PNF) established by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and played a key role Palestinian politics, finances, and philanthropic causes.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Abdul Majeed Abdul Hameed Shoman (also Abd al-Majid Abd al-Hamid Shawman) was born in 1912 in Bayt Hanina, Palestine, north of Jerusalem, to a Muslim Arab family. His father, Abdul Hameed Shoman (1890–1974), had left Bayt Hanina for the United States in 1911, shortly before Abdul Majeed's birth. The boy did not meet his father until over a decade later, when he traveled to New York to be with his father after his mother's death. In the United States, Shoman's father established several successful businesses in New York City and Baltimore before returning to Palestine in 1929. A year later, the elder Shoman used $70,000 he had generated in the United States to establish the Arab Bank in 1930.

Shoman followed in his father's footsteps. He received his BA and MA in economics and banking from New York University in 1936. After returning to Palestine, he began working at the Arab Bank in 1936. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, he helped stop a run on the bank by methodically paying out nervous depositors' withdrawals with one-Palestine pound bank-notes, slowing down the mad rush to withdraw cash and effectively halting the run. The family staved off another major crisis in 1948, when the first Arab-Israeli war left the bank inside Israeli lines. They managed to smuggle out bank records, safe deposit boxes, and other assets across the cease-fire lines into Jordanian-controlled territory, and reestablished the Arab Bank's operations in Amman, Jordan.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Abdul Majeed Shoman

Birth: 1912, Bayt Hanina, Ottoman Palestine

Death: 2005, Amman, Jordan

Family: Married with children

Nationality: Palestinian; Jordanian citizenship

Education: B.A., M.A. (economics and banking), New York University, 1936

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1936: Begins working with the Arab Bank
  • 1949: Deputy chairman of the Arab Bank
  • 1964: First chairman of the Palestinian National Fund; serves on the first executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization
  • 1974: Chairman and general manager of the Arab Bank
  • 1978: Establishes Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation
  • 1983: First chairman of the Welfare Association
  • 1987: Appointed to Jordanian senate
  • 1993: Appointed to Jordanian senate
  • 2001: Steps down as chief executive officer of the Arab Bank (but retains position of chairman of the board)

From 1949–1974, Shoman assisted his father as deputy chairman as the bank grew. Upon his father's death in 1974, he became its chairman and general manager. Shoman stepped down as chief executive officer of the bank in May 2001, although he retained the position of chairman of the board. He also became an important figure in the Palestinian national movement, serving on the first executive committee of the PLO and as the first director of the Palestinian National Fund.

Shoman also has excelled in philanthropic and cultural projects. He established the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in 1978. A portion of the Arab Bank's profits were put into the foundation, which has been responsible for sponsoring a number of cultural and scientific ventures over the years. In 1983, Shoman also established the Welfare Association to serve Palestinians in the occupied territories. He also served as chairman of the board for the Diana Tamari Sabbagh Foundation, the Medical Care Society, and Jordan Medical Aid for Palestinians. Shoman died in Amman on 5 July 2005.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Shoman was clearly influenced by the example of his father, Abdul Hameed Shoman, and inherited his father's intense commitment to the Palestinian people. A stonemason from a village near Jerusalem, the elder Shoman traveled to the United States in 1911 where he became a successful businessman. However, he decided to return to the Middle East to use his wealth for the good of Palestine and Palestinian economic development. The Arab Bank that he established was also known to serve its clientele even under difficult circumstances. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the creation of Israel, for example, the Arab Bank had over £500,000 of its funds blocked in Israel by Israeli laws governing the assets of Palestinian refugees. However, it still managed to pay out funds to its refugee depositors who fled during the war after it reestablished its operations in Amman, Jordan.

Under Shoman's direction after 1974, the Arab Bank grew from a large bank in Jordan to become the largest privately owned bank in the Arab world, and one of its major financial institutions. He expanded Arab Bank operations, which in mid-2007 comprised 378 branches in twenty-seven countries in the Middle East, North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. At the time of 2003–2004 fiscal year, the bank's assets totaled more than $34 billion. In November 2003, Oger Saudi Oger, Ltd.—a company owned by Lebanese billionaire businessman and politician Rafiq Hariri—acquired 11 percent of the company. In 1992, when Forbes magazine listed Shoman and his family (who at that point owned about 20 percent of the Arab Bank) among its list of world billionaires, it estimated the family's fortune at about $1 billion.

Shoman was also involved in Palestinian politics and financial matters. In 1964, the conference that established the PLO also created the Palestinian National Fund (PNF) to finance its operations. Shoman was selected to be the PNF's first director, concurrently sitting on the PLO's executive committee. He soon played a key role in PLO politics. After the discrediting of PLO Chairman Ahmad Shuqayri in the fallout after the disastrous Arab defeat in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Shoman was one of the first members of the PLO executive committee to threaten to resign—and cut off the PLO's funding from the PNF—if Shuqayri did not step down. Shuqayri did resign in December 1967, paving the way for Yasir Arafat to assume the post of PLO chairman in February 1969 after the brief rule of Shuqayri's successor, Yahya Hammuda.

CONTEMPORARIES

Khalid Shoman (1931–2001), half-brother of Abdul Majeed Shoman, was born in New York City. His maternal grandfather, Ahmad Hilmi Abd al-Baqi, was a major Palestinian banker. Shoman received a BA in economics from Cambridge University in Britain in 1955, and an MA from the same institution in 1959. He started working with the Arab Bank in 1956, and became deputy chairman and deputy general manager in 1974. He and his wife, artist Suha Shoman (1944–), established the Darat el Funun artistic complex in 1993.

Abdul Hamid Shoman (1947–), son of Abdul Majeed Shoman, received a BBA from The American University of Beirut. He began working with the Arab Bank in 1972. In May 2001, he became vice chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the bank, and assumed the chairmanship of the board in July 2005 after his father's death. In November 2005, King Abdullah II of Jordan appointed Shoman to the Jordanian senate. He is married with three children.

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

Shoman's financial clout in the Middle East can be seen in the number of financial institutions for which he served as chairman, including the Arab Palestinian Investment Bank, the Commercial Building Company, the Arab Computing Company, the Jerusalem Development & Investment Co, the Arab Real Estate Company for Administration and Investment, the Arab National Leasing Company, and the Arab Finance & Consultancy Services. Shoman also sat on the board of directors of the Arab National Bank in Saudi Arabia. He also received several awards over his career. For example, the Union of Arab Banks honored him with the title Banker of the Year in 1995, as did the Arab Bankers Association of North America in 1996. King Hussein twice appointed Shoman to the Jordanian senate, first from 1987–1990 and then again from 1993–1997. As a symbol of his great importance to Jordan and its economy, King abdullah ii bin hussein allowed Shoman to be buried in the royal cemetery in Amman.

On the other hand, the Arab Bank was not above becoming embroiled in controversy in the West. In July 2004 of that year, six families of Americans who were killed or injured in Palestinian attacks in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza sued the Arab Bank in a New York court for $875 million. They claimed that the bank's New York branch laundered Saudi-donated funds, eventually sending them to its branches in the Palestinian territories where they were distributed to family members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who had carried out suicide bombings. In February 2005, the United States Treasury Department ordered the bank to stop accepting new accounts or transferring funds. Earlier that month, the Arab Bank announced that it would close the New York branch because "the climate of operating in the United States at present is not expedient with the bank's strategy and vision."

LEGACY

Shoman will be remembered as a giant in Palestinian, Jordanian, and Arab banking, and Palestinian politics, as well as a major philanthropist. He was central to the robust success of the Arab Bank and a pillar in the Jordanian economy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation website. Available from http://www.shoman.org.

Abdul Majeed Shoman's obituary. Times (London). Available from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article543270.ece.

                                      Michael R. Fischbach

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