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Dartmouth professor named ‘Washington Post’ Jamal Khashoggi fellow

  • As the Jamal Khashoggi fellow at "The Washington Post," Dartmouth College visiting professor Ezzedine Fishere's columns will be translated into Arabic, and he hopes to reach a broader readership beyond Washington. Fishere is photographed at the college in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 5, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Photographed at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 5, 2019, Ezzedine Fishere, a visiting professor at the school since 2016, has been named the Jamal Khashoggi fellow at "The Washington Post." (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, Ezzedine Fishere appreciates that so many students are eager to learn, which he says makes it a special place to teach. “Americans have a reputation, worldwide, of being ignorant ... and I find this extremely unfair,” he said. Fishere is photographed at the school in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 5, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Published: 12/6/2019 5:21:12 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 10:23:55 PM

Back in 2007, Ezzedine Fishere was finding it hard to balance his job as a diplomat with his passion for writing. He’d risen in the Egyptian foreign service, becoming advisor to the foreign minister, but his job required him to deal with difficult people, sometimes murderers or war criminals.

“You have to have your armor up all the time,” said Fishere, who found he couldn’t switch gears to write after hours.

Fishere had written two previous novels that had attracted little attention. If he really wanted to be a writer, Fishere knew he’d have to jump ship from his high-ranking but time-consuming position.

He jumped. Fishere’s third novel, Intensive Care Unit, became a best-seller, was nominated for the Arabic Booker Prize and launched a new career.

“It’s one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” Fishere said.

Last month, Fishere — a visiting professor at Dartmouth College since 2016 — was named the Jamal Khashoggi fellow at The Washington Post, where he’ll write two columns per month on topics ranging from authoritarianism and democratization to regional conflicts and cultural trends in the Middle East.

“It’s a very vast portfolio, and I’m very grateful for that,” Fishere said. “The whole thing is outstanding.”

Fishere, who is the second Jamal Khashoggi fellow, commended the Post for bringing different voices with outside perspectives to its pages.

“I don’t know many newspapers that do that,” he said.

Fishere’s columns will be translated into Arabic, and he hopes to reach a broader readership beyond the “Washington mill” of think tanks and administration officials who work on Egypt policy. He figures there’s only so much you can say to that audience, as opposed to people in the U.S. and Middle East who might be interested in learning about these issues.

“I don’t want to be banging my head against this wall,” he said. “I’d rather be banging my head against the other wall.”

The Washington Post created the fellowship to honor one of its columnists, Jamal Khashoggi, who in 2018 was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi had been critical of the Saudi government, which has been blamed for Khashoggi’s killing.

For Fishere, Khashoggi’s legacy of fellowships and attention to Middle East voices is bittersweet. “Maybe because I knew him personally, I’d rather he be alive without those things happening,” he said.

There have been assassinations before, Fishere continued, but he finds something particularly disturbing about the murder of Khashoggi. “Maybe because he wasn’t a full-fledged dissident. He was the son of the system, and he was trying to fix it rather than overthrow it.”

“It means there is something ... not just wrong. It’s like there is a madness somewhere,” Fishere continued as he struggled to find the right words to describe Khashoggi’s murder.

What worries Fishere is that we are beginning to forget how unusual and reckless this crime was. States still have to conduct business and people have to move on, he acknowledged, but this strain of unpredictable violence, even if it’s quiet now, will return.

“Until this is dealt with, there is an explosive element lying unattended, in kind of a sensitive place,” Fishere said.

Fishere wrote in an email that his name is pronounced “Fish’air like if fish had an airline. And Ezzedine as in easy-dean.” He was born in Kuwait to Egyptian migrant worker parents. The youngest of six siblings, he grew up in a small city on the Nile Delta that Fishere said is not much bigger than Hanover.

He wasn’t much good at sports, but he’d been reading for as long as he could remember. One day, while his mother hung laundry, he told her that he kept forgetting the ideas he came up with at school that he wanted to write about.

His mother worked hard around the house, with very little money and no hired help. “My mother was tired by the time I was there,” Fishere joked.

But she took his problem seriously, advising him to carry a notebook and pencil around with him to jot down his ideas.

Years later, when Fishere was named the 10th ranked high school student in all of Egypt, reporters asked his mother what she expected him to do with his life. “She said, ‘He’s going to be a writer,’ ” Fishere recalled.

His mother was not one to give compliments, Fishere said, “so it was pretty extraordinary.”

After college, Fishere entered the foreign service as one of the few safe avenues for pursuing change in society.

“If you grow up in Egypt ... it doesn’t take you a long time before you realize that things are going terribly wrong, and that this is not how things should be,” he said.

During study leaves, he earned advanced degrees in Canada, where Fishere said he also got his “winter training.” He’d liked working as a teaching assistant, and after quitting the foreign service, he accepted a tenure-track position at the American University in Cairo.

Fishere said teaching forces him to clarify his ideas, which helps both his writing and his sense of perspective.

“When we lose touch with young students ... we get too absorbed and too confident in our own ideas, and that promotes groupthink a little bit,” he said.

As a visiting professor at Dartmouth, Fishere appreciates that so many students are eager to learn, which he said makes it a special place to teach.

“Americans have a reputation, worldwide, of being ignorant ... and I find this extremely unfair,” he said.

As part of a class, Fishere helped five Dartmouth students publish short stories they wrote in Arabic for an Egyptian literary weekly. After he posted them on Facebook, commenters couldn’t believe these writers — who showed such insight into Egyptian politics and culture — were American students.

Khashoggi, too, Fishere said, was impressed by Dartmouth students’ interest in and understanding of Middle East issues when he visited campus about a year before his murder.

Though Fishere retains a following in Egypt, he can’t go back. His most recent novel, All that Nonsense, painted Egypt as a dystopia, and he figures his Washington Post columns will be the last straw.

“I count my blessings. I’m not in jail. I managed to get out before it got too difficult,” said Fishere, who noted that some of his friends have not been so lucky. “And I managed to rebuild a life elsewhere, and I’m very grateful for all that.”

Fishere will be staying at Dartmouth, as the college has offered him a permanent position. The chair of the Middle Eastern Studies Department, Tarek El-Ariss, said in an email statement that Fishere “brings to Dartmouth an incomparable expertise and deep understanding of Middle Eastern politics and international relations.”

Looking ahead, Fishere is helping to organize two conferences that will bring speakers from across the world to Dartmouth to speak on Middle East issues. And he’s still deciding whether his next book will be a novel or nonfiction work.

Fishere said he loves living in the Upper Valley. He enjoys the decency he sees people showing each other, and even the traditional New England reserve has its benefits.

“It respects you and your space, which is quite rare in the world today,” he said.

But perhaps for Fishere, the most magical thing about the Upper Valley is its closeness to nature.

“It is so soothing to wake up and be surrounded by trees and have birds at your window,” Fishere said “It’s like a fairy tale, for a city boy like me.”

Matt Golec can be reached at mattgolec@gmail.com




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