By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Few are those leaders who insist on staying out of the limelight throughout their lives, and few are those who have made exceptional achievements, and remained keen to keep them unannounced. In Palestine’s modern and contemporary history, Khairy al-Agha stands in the forefront of such people. On the fifth anniversary of the death of octogenarian al-Agha (1/6/2014), we shed some light on his contributions to the Palestinian national and Islamic movement.
When I was conducting my research on the history of the Palestinian Islamic movement, I met al-Agha for two days in the midst of September 1998. He would answer my questions, especially those of which I have a good idea about their backgrounds, while keeping silent about events that I didn’t ask about, which I discovered later that he played a key role in.
In this article, I choose to talk about four aspects of Dr. Khairy Hafez ‘Uthman al-Agha (aka Abu Usamah), the Palestinian leader and businessperson, who held a PhD in business administration. Since his youth, he was a member of the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement, he spent the larger part of his life in Saudi Arabia (KSA) and also died there.
First: His important role in the secret military organization, which the MB movement established in the Gaza Strip (GS) in early 1950s:
It aimed to resume resistance against the Israeli occupation. It was one of the first prominent organizations that emerged after the 1948 Nakbah, which didn’t get the mention it deserves in the books of the modern history of Palestine.
The organization was connected to Kamil al-Sharif (One of the most prominent Egyptian MB leaders in the 1948 war), who lived in al-Arish city in Sinai and whom the Egyptian MB movement delegated to lead the armed resistance against the British at the Suez Canal. Most of its members were from the youth, and high school and university students. The leadership of this organization in GS was distributed over three regions; Khairy al-Agha, assisted by Muhammad Abu Sardaneh, led the Khan Yunus and the central region; Khalil al-Wazir (aka Abu Jihad) led GS and the northern region; while Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar led Rafah and the southern region. The link between these leaders and Kamil al-Sharif was Muhammad Abu Sido, who was a “plumber” in the Egyptian army in Sinai, and whose movement between Sinai and GS was easy, due to his weekly back and forth travels, conveying orders and instructions to his brethren in GS.
This organization carried out limited military action (some of which was mentioned in the writings of Khalil al-Wazir), however, it received a harsh blow from Gamal ‘Abdul Nasser in 1954, before the MB movement could become stronger. Consequently, the MB was obliged to become an underground movement due to the fierce pursuit campaigns and media distortion. This organization—which later disintegrated—was the main source for the establishment of the Fatah movement, joined by a number of its elite cadres, whereas Khairy al-Agha remained with the MB movement.
Second: His main role in organizing the Palestinian MB movement and establishing the Bilad-al-Sham MB Branch:
When the MB in GS reorganized themselves under a new youth leadership, a need emerged to link the GS MB with their expatriate brethren in the Arab countries in one organization. In the summer of 1963 (other versions of the story mention that it was in the summer of 1962), Khairy al-Agha convened a secret meeting of 15 delegates at the Mawasi [farm] of Eid al-Agha in the Khan Yunus region, where they decided to establish the Palestinian Brothers Movement in the Arab countries except for Jordan (The West Bank (WB) was then part of Jordan). Five members were elected headed by Hani Bseso, who became the first Comptroller General of Palestinian MB, while Khairy al-Agha was in charge of the MB in KSA and their representative in the Shura Council [An advisory structure]. In 1975, al-Agha was elected as the deputy to the Comptroller General ‘Umar Abu Jbarah (who was the head of the Palestinian MB movement in Kuwait), and in early summer 1973, when the latter died, al-Agha assumed his position. In the same year, the Shura Council elected al-Agha the new Comptroller General, and Suleiman Hamad his deputy.
Al-Agha had played a major role in merging the Palestinian and Jordanian MB movements in one organization called the “Bilad al-Sham.” For he noticed how much the two movements are intertwined especially abroad, and that large numbers of members of the Jordanian MB movement are of Palestinian origin, in addition that both movements are advocates of the Palestine issue. In 1978, al-Agha and Hamad raised this proposition to the Shura Council in Jordan, and it was unanimously accepted. During the same year, the Shura Councils of both movements were dissolved, and a new council and leadership were elected, headed by Muhammad ‘Abdul Rahman Khalifah. The Palestinian MB movements in GS, Kuwait, KSA, Qatar and UAE…joined the new organization. Then, al-Agha stepped down of his own accord and initiative, and with that the Palestinian MB movement opened a new chapter.
Third: His essential role in establishing and leading Hamas
In the early 1980s, al-Agha went to the US to follow-up his PhD in business administration, and during that period the activities for the sake of the Palestine issue continued by an ad-hoc committee at the Bilad al-Sham organization. In October 1983, the MB in Amman held a conference for the sake of Palestine, and decided to establish an Ad Hoc Committee that would develop plans and studies, and provide the requirements of resistance action. After some period, and in 1985, when the idea had matured and developed… the “Palestine Division” was established, and was known later as the “Palestine Apparatus.”
After finishing his PhD, al-Agha returned to KSA, and under immense pressure from his colleagues, he agreed to assume the leadership of the “Apparatus” and direct its Palestinian activities, having broad powers within the Bilad al-Sham organization. Actually, al-Agha’s personal traits played a major role in making quantum leaps in the work of the Apparatus, for he was a visionary leader, highly dynamic, with outstanding leadership capabilities, a wide network of relationships, and an exceptional ability to unleash the potentials, especially those of the youth. Working alongside him were exceptional leaders, such as Ahmad Yasin in GS, Hasan al-Qiq in WB and Suleiman Hamad abroad… This has paved the way for the launch of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), after the leadership abroad approved such a step from the leadership inside Palestine (The administrative bureau in WB and GS), granting it the green light and authority to set the launch date.
Al-Agha, was supervising this action moment by moment, while shying away from limelight and preserving strict confidentiality that did not affect its efficiency and dynamism. In December 1987, as Hamas was launched, al-Agha continued his leadership role and became the first head of Hamas. However, and since he had believed in the necessity that the youth take the lead, and the elder leaders make room for them, he resigned from the presidency in 1993, soon after the Shura Council re-elected him head of Hamas. He handed over his position to his then-deputy Musa Abu Marzuq, keeping himself away from any executive post while providing his brethren with advice and support.
Fourth: His main role in establishing the Islamic University in GS
Anyone who has any connection with the establishment of the Islamic University in GS admits that Khairy al-Agha had a big hand in establishing and supporting it, and providing continuous patronage to it. He believed in the duality of “science and faith,” and its essential role in building “the generation of victory and liberation.” He headed the supervisors’ body, and overcame lots of obstacles, due to his ingenuity, experience and relationships. His good relations with Yasir ‘Arafat, several Fatah leaders, GS symbols and dignitaries, beside the Islamic figures, helped him transform the university from a dream into reality, especially that the founding committee (later was known as the supervisors committee) consisted of Fatah and Hamas (MB) members, half in half. However, after that, the Fatah members withdrew to establish al-Azhar University. After the university was established, Al-Agha continued sponsoring it, and as a KSA-based businessperson, he was able to spend generously on the university, and invest in his wide network of relationships (Islamic and business wise) to support the university and its needs; Until it became one of the most prominent universities in Palestine.
Finally, this unique person deserves to be acknowledged in serious academic studies and writings, admitting his role and status in Palestine’s modern and contemporary history, after his Hamas comrades complied with his desire and insistence to stay out of the limelight during his lifetime.
This article was originally published in Arabic on Arabi 21 on 24/5/2019.