By Ahmed Quraishi
Nasser al-Kharafi, 67, a Kuwaiti businessman, died in Cairo Sunday night and was buried earlier today, Tuesday, in his native Kuwait. He was the third richest Arab. Forbes magazine placed him among the wealthiest businessmen in the Arab world. He was ranked 77 on the world’s list of billionaires in 2011 with an estimated wealth of $10.4 billion.
His father started out a small trader in Kuwait who ran a business that included Iraq, Iraq, Gulf region and India. Today, the Kharafi group has businesses and factories across the Middle East, with seven billion US dollars invested in Egypt alone. Jordan’s King Abdullah II once said to him, ‘Your investments in Jordan equal the US aid we receive.’
There are two reasons I mention him here. One is that I know some members of his family, close and distant relatives. And second is his person, the man behind all this wealth.
I have closely known three of his relatives. Surprisingly, all of them have shared the same personality traits as the deceased. He has been described as humble, honest, opinionated and principled.
When told that Forbes was predicting he would soon rival Bill Gates in his wealth, Nasser al Kharafi smiled and said ‘This is the last thing on my mind.’ And he was not being humble. He died in Egypt, away from his home in Kuwait, because he noticed some of the people in his business delegation visiting factories and offices in the region were too exhausted to coninue the trip. So he stayed overnight in Cairo for their sake.
While a shrewd and successful businessman, he was also a generous giver. In the tradition of the Arab Islamic culture, he wouldn’t divulge his largesse, but he has been known to have spent generously on the poor in the region, and was very proud that his companies provided job opportunities to 100,000 people across the Middle East. He was against stashing his wealth in western banks.
Although he was a Muslim from the Sunni sect and understood the politics behind Iran’s support for the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, yet he publicly supported the militia on the sole criterion that the militia raised arms against Israel when no one dared to. He wrote eloquently in Arab media defending his position of supporting Hezbollah despite the many political differences between Arab governments and the government of Iran.
His last opinion piece in Arabic, titled, ‘Life Of Pride Or Death With Honor’ , published last month, contained an open letter to the leader of Lebanese Shia militia Hassan Nasrallah. It reflected his thinking. Here is a translated excerpt:
“How can we not support you when you are confronting the arrogance of the Israeli military machine. Thanks to your strong will and the heroism of the resistance fighters, the weakness and hollowness of Israeli military has been exposed (…) Your excellency Hassan Nasrallah, I know that you do not differentiate between Sunnis and Shias. The yardstick of Allah is piety, good deeds and the jihad in the name of Allah. There are those in our Ummah who are trying to divide Muslims to weaken the Ummah and weaken their hearts in the service of the Zionist enemy. What they don’t understand is that our enemy does not differentiate between us. The enemy is attacking Sunni Muslims in proud Gaza day and night, killing its women and children, just as the enemy attacks the Shia Muslims in the dear south Lebanon, and is threatening war against Muslim Iran. But our people don’t know this, whether they are nationalists or Islamists. That’s what hurts us.”
He was known for his bold opinions. In 2006, he asked the American president George W. Bush to clarify the concept of fascism when the US president claimed that, “Islamic fascism is the root cause of the crisis in the region.”
In an open letter he wrote to President Bush, al Kharafi said, “We, along with other people in the whole world, are standing united with you in your rejection of fascism. But the grim pictures of the Lebanese victims who died due to the Israeli aggression on Lebanon are showing us the opposite. We, therefore, believe that there is a misunderstanding on who should be accused of fascism.”
As any opinionated man, he had many critics in the region. But his hallmark was his smile and his firm and warm handshake. He reminded many of the legendary Arab traits of being resolute, honest but at the same time forgiving to those who attack his person, and capable of winning over enemies by his forthcoming handshake and smile.
People can agree or disagree with Nasser al Kharafi’s political opinions. But what can’t be denied is that this was a man that embodied what a businessman should be. He would often ask about the number of new job opportunities his new business ventures would create and this question would be at the top, right there with other commercial considerations.
Such a behavior would have never endeared him to the world’s famous business journals, but that’s the kind of businessman he was.
That’s why I mention him here today. May his soul rest in peace.