Munib R. Masri is an international businessman and philanthropist devoted passionately to the development of an independent Palestinian state. He has always held Palestine as his highest priority and, after building multiple businesses across the globe spanning four decades, Munib Masri moved back to Palestine 20 years ago to dedicate himself to nation-building, promoting social welfare, education and development, and advancing the cause of peace. Masri, a member of the Palestine National Council, the PLO's Central Committee and a former minister in the Jordanian government, three times turned down the post of Palestinian prime minister under Yasser Arafat. He is the founder and chairman of the Palestine Forum, a movement representing independent citizens which is widely credited with playing a key role in reaching a unity deal between the two largest Palestinian political factions. Masri is also founder and chairman of the Palestine Development and Investment Company (PADICO), the country's leading conglomerate, whose mission is to develop and strengthen the Palestinian economy, and is founder and chairman of Edgo Group, one of the first privately owned engineering companies in the Middle East.
In 1952 seventeen-year-old Munib Masri, with $400 in $2 bills in his pocket, arrived in New York City after a long boat trip from Beirut. He immediately hailed a taxi and asked to be driven to Texas. Once on a Greyhound bus, the young man spent the next three days jumping off the bus at every stop, sure he’d arrived. In Texas he rapidly earned his way through university, working night shifts in a sandwich factory and a Coca Cola bottling plant. He finished a BA in petroleum studies at the University of Texas in 1955 and an MS in political science and geology from Sul Ross University in 1956. He promptly returned to the Middle East with his American wife and young son and immediately began a steady journey toward fame and fortune.
In Amman he worked as a geologist and founded the Jordanian Office for Engineering and Geological Services, later to become his own company, Edgo. When only 28, he served as president of Phillips Petroleum in Algeria; later, working out of Lebanon, he became president of operations in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In 1970 he was appointed Jordan’s Minister of Public Works, but one year later he turned all his energies to Edgo, the Engineering and Development Group, which continues to be a leader in its field in the region today.
Masri’s company helped countries of the Middle East develop infrastructure. Starting with projects in oil, gas, and water exploration, Edgo gradually expanded to include construction, telecommunications, technology, real estate development, and project financing. Today Edgo is a network of varied companies made up of 29 units operating primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Early on the company undertook community responsibilities, working in education, health care, cultural heritage, and social welfare; it distributed scholarships, built schools and clinics, and contributed to numerous charities.
Masri has directed companies in many countries and is director of the Jerusalem Development and Investment Company, Jordan Medical Aid for Palestinians, and chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce Palestine. He is a former vice chairman of the Arab Bank, and board member of the Oman Arab Bank and the Arab Bank Switzerland. He also served as chairman of the Arab Tunisian Bank.
As an entrepreneur, Masri cast a wide net, but he never forgot his Palestinian roots. He cofounded and chaired PADICO, the Palestine Development and Investment Company, which has spun off companies such as the Palestine Telecommunications Company, one of the largest independent telecommunications companies in the Middle East.
PADICO brought crucially needed business skills and capital back to Palestine. In 1989 Fortune Magazine wrote glowingly of the “big moneymen of Palestine,” entrepreneurs who, “if a new Palestinian state is born . . . will shape its economy [with] their money and expertise.” One of the figures highlighted was “the tall Texan from the West Bank,” Munib Masri.
In 1998 attention focused on Masri’s construction of an extraordinary residence on Mt. Gerzim above his home town of Nablus. Modeled after a sixteenth-century Palladio-designed villa near Venice, the house was built almost entirely of materials imported from abroad. The cupola resembles the dome of St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. Paintings by Picasso and Modigliani adorn the walls of rooms ornamented with tapestries, silver, Louis XIV sofas, a wooden staircase from Italy, and a fireplace from Versailles. Outside are 10,000 olive trees, Islamic gardens, and gazelles. Built during the turmoil of the Second Intifada (the building was completed in 2000), Beit Felasteen, says Masri, symbolizes the spirit of the Palestinian people, proving to the world and to the Israelis that Palestinians have courage, pride, and perseverance.
Munib Masri has an unwavering passion for philanthropy. His National Committee for Aid Relief in Nablus has helped thousands of people pay for pricey medications and the rebuilding of homes destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. He contributes large amounts of money to aid organizations. He sits on the boards of charitable organizations such as the Shoman Foundation, which he cofounded, and the Sakakini Cultural Center (where he has been chair of the Board of Trustees). He is an honorary chairman of the Welfare Association, the leading Palestinian non-governmental development organization, and he has supported many universities: a cofounder of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, he was also chair of the university’s Board of Trustees; he is trustee emeritus of the American University of Beirut and has created there the Munib and Angela Masri Institute of Energy and Natural Resources. He also funded the construction of the Engineering and Geology College at An-Najah University, the IT Faculty at Birzeit University, and a pediatric ward named after his mother at Al-Ittihad Hospital. He has regularly helped thousands of university students with tuition fees.
Although he claims to be a simple man, Munib Masri is not at all simple, especially when it comes to Palestine. Seeking unity among Palestinians, Masri is “an eloquent spokesman for moderation.” Following the surprising outcome of the 2006 elections, Masri launched in 2007 Muntada Felasteen, the Palestine Forum, an organization devoted to giving a voice to the silent majority and bringing opposing Fatah and Hamas together. Masri views a unity government as the only way to achieve an independent state. According to veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, Masri and the Palestine Forum worked for four years to bring about the signing of the Cairo peace accords on May 4, 2011, “one of the greatest deals of the past decade . . . in Palestinian politics.”
Many individuals across Palestine had taken part, “going back and forth [endlessly] between the various parties.” Following the May 2011 signing by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, Munib Masri told British journalist Robert Fisk, “Without the good will of all sides . . . and the desire of the Palestinians to unite after the start of the Arab Spring, we could not have done this.” But implementation of the Cairo agreement is still a work in progress. Continuing divisive spirit among the Palestinian factions and rejection by both Israel and the United States have complicated implementation of the “political miracle”; the vital elements of the deal have not yet been achieved.
Yet Munib Masri is not discouraged about the possibilities of national unity and Palestinian statehood. Early in the four-year battle leading up to the signing, he said, “I’m too old for this, but I refuse to die before I see a real peace.” In June of 2011, he insisted, “It’s necessary to be creative and flexible. It is possible. Why not try?”