Neil MacFarquhar's exposure to the Middle East started early, at age three, when his family moved to Libya where his father worked for a decade in the nascent oil industry. (Neil began his education at Esso Elementary School.) In total, he has spent more than 25 years in the region, including five years based in Cairo as the bureau chief for The New York Times, preceded by a seven-year stint as a correspondent for The Associated Press during which he lived in Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus.
He lived in Cairo, Egypt, from January 2001 until January 2006, traveling continuously through the swath of countries from Morocco to Iran. He spent most of his time in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, with occasional reporting from Iraq until the end of 2003. In those rare moments when the violence of that era abated, he focused on daily life—stories on topics like anti-dog fatwas in Iran, the most famous Lebanese chef and a wildly popular comedy series on Saudi television. He used his last year as the Mideast correspondent to write an in-depth series that profiled half a dozen men and women working with mixed success for political and social change. His life in those years and some of that work inspired his latest book. After leaving Cairo, he wrote about Muslims in North America for two years, then took up his current post as the Times bureau chief at the United Nations, in June 2008. He lives in New York City. A fluid speaker of Arabic and French, Neil holds a B.A. in International Political Economy from Stanford University.
Neil is the author of two books. The most recent, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected
Encounters in the Changing Middle East (Public Affairs, May 2009), attempts to capture the underexposed side of the Middle East. The Sand Café (Public Affairs, April 2006) is a satiric look at an unruly group of foreign correspondents mired in a Saudi hotel waiting for a war that never seems to start. (It's fiction.)
Asked what he thought about being a foreign correspondent, Neil wrote: “It’s a funny job—funny in the two senses of the word. Ricocheting from country to country, chasing mayhem, is both a peculiar way to earn a living and often borders on the absurd. Obviously much of what I cover is sobering and achingly sad. But the way the press corps goes about it, the logistics that most people never see, habitually proves comical, particularly in the Arab world. (I managed to work that into both my books.) The best part, though, is that reporting is a form of continuous education and a chance to come face-to-face with the world without any barriers in the way.”