Saleh Kamel

Saleh Kamel – an iconic figure across the Middle East and the Islamic world – was a man whose vision and entrepreneurial flair created life-changing development across a vast geographical area. Over the course of a life that spanned eight decades, through to his death in May 2020, he played a pivotal role in media, Islamic banking, urban development, and social welfare, not only in his native Saudi Arabia, but also far beyond.

“Wealth must not be merely a factor for individual advancement, but rather a lever for achieving community balance and harmony.”

Saleh Kamel
Early Life

Saleh Kamel was born in the Summer of 1941 in Taif. He grew up with his parents, three brothers and four sisters in a modest home in the Al Hajla neighborhood of Makkah. After completing his studies locally, he was awarded a high school diploma qualifying him to enroll at the College of Business Administration at Riyadh’s King Saud University.

A Passion for Commerce

Saleh Kamel showed his love of commerce at an early age when he would sell various children’s games to the neighboring kids. During the Hajj season he worked in the Tawafa profession (guiding and aiding pilgrims), which was passed down from generation to generation in Makkah. The young Saleh realized that the Hajj season offered great work opportunities, which he took full advantage of to secure funds for future investments.

Combining Business and Study

When the young Saleh Kamel discovered scouting, he was able to turn his hobby into another business opportunity by importing and selling various items of clothing and equipment to his fellow students. Later, at university, he expanded his scouting supplies business and – seeing a gap in the market – opened a printing and copying service in a shop close to the university where he produced and sold copies of lecture notes.

Working Life

After successfully graduating from university, Saleh Kamel worked at the Ministry of Finance for a decade where he fine honed his economic skills. With his Ministry experience he was well placed to identify a range of business opportunities emerging in the burgeoning Saudi economy. He established the Dallah Establishment in a small office in Riyadh in 1969.

“When I have an idea, I become totally focused on breathing life into it. It is rewarding to see things fall into place and poised for success.”

Saleh Kamel

Saleh Kamel started business in the field of maintenance and operations and through Dallah Establishment, secured numerous government contracts across various sectors, including mobile mail services, port operations, city maintenance, and infrastructure projects. His strategic vision and dedication to excellence propelled the company to become a key player in Saudi Arabia’s economic landscape.

“Some may be surprised when they hear me say that I owe as much to the failures in my life as I do to the successes. The patience Allah bestowed upon me after every failure was a reason to hold fast and not collapse in the middle of the road. One should not be ashamed of one’s failures. There is nothing wrong with failure; what is wrong is to repeat the same mistake twice.”

Saleh Kamel
A Pioneer of the Islamic Economy

Saleh Kamel is frequently referred to as a Pioneer of the Islamic Economy and with good reason; his contribution to spreading the concept around the globe cannot be overestimated. By the time of his death in 2020, Standard and Poors, the international risk assessment brokers, estimated the value of Islamic banking at US$2.3 trillion – a healthy expansion for a modern business model that Saleh Kamel was fundamental in creating, repurposing a moral Islamic tradition into a functioning financial code for the modern age. Islam was Saleh Kamel’s true North, the direction in which he constantly travelled, balancing religion and ethics on his journey through life, much as a mariner might monitor wind and tide to navigate his chosen course. He brought his own set of ethical religious values into play in the way that he handled banking matters, and indeed his entire business empire.

I met the German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she visited Saudi Arabia. She was aware of my work in Islamic banks. She asked me about the secret of the Islamic banks not being affected by the global financial crisis in 2008. I told her: ‘In Islamic finance, we operate and believe in the real economy, not the hypothetical economy in which most of the world’s banks operate.’ She said: ‘Tell me more.’ I explained the Prophet’s saying: ‘Do not sell what you do not own!’ If this had been followed, no bank would have gone bankrupt, no individual would have been financially broken. The Chancellor asked me to elaborate, which I happily did. Two months later, Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned me to say: ‘Do not sell what you do not own’ is now a law in Germany!” 

Saleh Kamel
Real Estate Mogul

For over 40 years, Saleh Kamel spearheaded urban development initiatives, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape. In the early 80s, he pioneered Jeddah’s first residential compound, allowing the local middle class to purchase most of the properties and turning this thriving community into a pivot of urban development. The Durrat Alarous property development stands as a testament to his vision, transforming coastland into a vibrant hub with sandy beaches, marinas, hotels, and entertainment venues across eight million square metres. In Tunisia, his focus turned to a five-million-square-metre lake used for wastewater disposal. This large-scale environmental remediation project became Le Lac luxury suburb that today hosts world-class hotels, offices, embassies, as well as commercial and residential complexes. Similarly, in Egypt’s Almaza district, the Almaza project was designed on land that used to suffer from sewage issues and pollution. Another key project was the construction of King Abdulaziz Road, a monumental endeavor in Makkah, blending infrastructure expansion with creating a residential, commercial and transportation hub.

The Media

Saleh Kamels’s contribution to the world of media was highly significant.  In the early 1970s, he formed a media production company and expanded his involvement in the sector throughout subsequent decades. He was among the pioneers of the new satellite television technology, and co-founded MBC, originally based in London. This was followed by the introduction of the new ART channel network a few years later. He laid a modern infrastructure for the satellite era in the Middle East. Saleh Kamel invested in the expansion of television broadcasting rights for football leagues and other sports tournaments, bringing a host of new experiences to an enthusiastic new audience. He marked the beginning of the 21st century by establishing Jordan Medic City in 2001.

“Profit matters, but it’s not everything in business. There are other factors that must be considered when selecting a project, namely the development of land and societies; job creation; and the added value that this project will bring. If these criteria aren’t met, it’s best to avoid the venture.”

Saleh Kamel
Humanitarian Aims

Saleh Kamel immersed himself in charitable works throughout his life, through the Saleh Kamel Humanitarian Foundation (SKHF) and the Iqraa Humanitarian Foundation, both of which continue to work to preserve his charitable legacy. The two organizations strive to preserve Saleh Kamel’s aims of helping the development of mankind through the provision of educational and employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and around the world.

The Death of Saleh Kamel

Saleh Abdullah Kamel passed away on May 18, 2020, leaving behind a profound legacy of innovation, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. His family remains dedicated to upholding his vision of wise leadership and human development, ensuring his positive influence on humanity endures for generations to come.

“With the passing of Saleh Kamel, the Islamic world lost a businessman with a great vision for the development of the Islamic economy globally.”

Mahathir Mohamad
Former Prime Minister of Malaysia