Farouk Shami: Capturing the diaspora

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Farouk Shami is a small man with a big personality and a not inconsiderable mouth. He likes to recall that he left Palestine for America in his youth with about $70 in his pocket; in the intervening 50 years he has invented the world’s first ammonia-free hair colour, made his fortune with a Houston-based hair and skin care company, run for governor of Texas as a Democrat (he wrecked his campaign, he says, by saying that white people don’t want to work in factories) and formed a highly unlikely friendship with Donald Trump.

He is also a representative of the hugely wealthy and potentially powerful Palestinian diaspora, a constituency he believes have hundreds of billions of dollars in assets (Bank of Palestine reckons just under $100 billion, much of it in a fiercely loyal half-million-strong population in Chile, which identifies as strongly Palestinian despite the fact that most of them don’t speak Arabic anymore). And, like many, he wants to bring some of it home.

"I cannot bring a Palestinian state, but I can contribute to building an independent economy," he says, in a stylish office tower in Ramallah. "I don’t believe you can have an independent state without an independent economy." 

He doesn’t believe in donation but does believe in building business, and...