Munib R. Masri, entrepreneur and minister
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 05.03.2007:
In 1952, Munib R. Masri (MRM) walked down the plank and off the boat that brought him from Nablus via Beirut and Jabal Tarek to New York. On the way, the small boat, the Khedewi Ismaeel, stopped off at two or three Mediterranean cities where MRM saw first-hand the scars of World War II in Genoa and Marseille. He was seasick during the journey and wished he had never left his beloved Nablus. He had a wad of two-dollar bills that totalled four hundred dollars. He wisely divided these bills: half in the front pockets of his trousers and the other half in his coat pockets. His mother packed his two leather bags (made in Damascus) with a four-year supply of Nabulsi soap, suits, socks, and underwear. She thought that Munib, her youngest and favourite, should have all he needed, as she was sure that there was nothing good to buy in the United States. She also wisely packed him some kaek-be-ajweh (date sweets) for the long journey.
The first thing that he saw as the boat sailed into New York Harbour was the jungle of cement. He had never seen so many tall buildings! This added to his excitement about starting a new life as a student in Texas. So in broken English, he told the fourth yellow-cab-driver he flagged down to ‘take me Texas!’ MRM was 17 years old and, even though he was popular, handsome, and a very resourceful young man who had been born and raised in Nablus, he was no match for the yellow-cab drivers of New York. Finally, the fourth driver took pity on him and dropped him off at the Greyhound Bus Station. At every stop during three nights and four days, MRM thought, ‘This is Texas!’ and was poised to jump out. Throughout the journey, he ate five-cent ice cream and twenty-five-cent hamburgers. This was his first experience of American ‘cuisine’.
MRM finally reached his destination, the University of Texas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in petroleum geology and went on to get his master’s in 1955 in government and geology from Sul Ross State University. Fast-forward to 2005, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate by An Najah University in Nablus.
He worked hard and put himself through university by working night shifts in such places as a sandwich factory and a Coca Cola bottling plant.
After graduation, he didn’t linger in the United States very long and came back to the Middle East, bringing with him his Texan bride and young son. He was also very proud of his car-a 1956 Chevrolet with a radio, a first for Nablus. He was eager to introduce his wife to his mother, Zahia, and nine brothers and sisters in Nablus. He almost didn’t make it to the reunion, however, because he had heard that a war had broken out, and he was ready to go to the front and serve. But by the time the boat had docked, the war was over. After a brief stay in Nablus in 1956, he moved to Amman where he worked as a geologist and founded the Jordanian Office for Engineering and Geological Services, a precursor to Majmuat Al-Emar Al-Handasia (EDGO) where he continues to serve, develop, and guide the company to this day. In 1963, at the young age of 28, he was promoted to president of Phillips Petroleum in Algeria and later moved to Lebanon as president of operations, responsible for 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 1970, he was asked by the late Wasfi Tell to become Minister of Public Works in the Jordanian government. MRM accepted, but on condition that he would be minister without pay. He commuted from Amman to Beirut every Thursday evening and spent all day Friday pursuing his private work. He would return to his public post in Amman on Friday evening. A year later, he left the government to focus on developing EDGO, and today EDGO has evolved into a multidisciplinary, multinational network of companies that comprises 29 entities and operates primarily in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and North America. EDGO’s diverse activities include contracting, industrial development, trade, education, health, distribution and representation, project development, operation and maintenance, and project financing.
Although MRM’s work took him to many countries as he strived to make a living and build his business, he never forgot Palestine. Because of his devotion to Palestine, and especially to his birthplace of Nablus, he felt compelled to help his people through the disasters that seem to befall them every few years. MRM’s support has been especially effective through his work with the National Committee for Aid Relief in Nablus, which he co-founded and chaired. Since the first Intifada, this committee has helped thousands of people in need of medicine and those whose homes have been destroyed by the continuing Israeli incursions.
Throughout the years, he has contributed a tremendous amount of time and money to aid families and projects. Even today, his work continues. As soon as he was able, MRM became active in philanthropy and education. Today, he is on the board of various local, national, and international aid organizations. In addition, he is one of the five founders of the Welfare Association, which was set up in 1983 and has funded hundreds of projects and initiatives since then. He also heads his own foundation through which he has funded many projects, namely, the construction of the Engineering and Geology College at An Najah University in Nablus and a paediatric ward, named after his mother, at Al-Ittihad Hospital, also in Nablus. He is a member of the board of trustees of Al Quds University in Jerusalem and the American University of Beirut. He has helped thousands of students with tuition fees and hopes to establish an institute in Nablus that would attract scholars in different fields from around the world.
When the Oslo Agreement was struck in 1993, he was one of the first private investors to come to invest his money and efforts in businesses that employed hundreds of people, and he helped pioneer a newly emerging economy, one that had been battered by more than 30 years of Israeli occupation and destructive Israeli policies and restrictions.
His strong sense of belonging and commitment to development in Palestine led him to become one of the founders of a $200-million company and instrumental in building one of Palestine’s most successful groups of companies, PADICO, the Palestine Development and Investment Company, which he has chaired for the past nine years.
MRM regards himself as an eternal optimist and insists that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Perseverance is a word he often repeats when he speaks of an independent Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. To him, Palestine is a shining beacon that is never to be extinguished.
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