Q&A with Sultan Althari

May 24, 2019
Sultan Althari

Sultan Althari is a first-year student in the AM in Middle Eastern Studies program.

How did you become interested in Middle Eastern studies?

My Interest was driven initially by a passion to create a positive change in the Middle East. Although challenges such as sectarianism, inequality, conflict, and youth unemployment exist on a global scale, I always wondered why they’re especially pronounced in the Middle East, and what I can do to change that reality. Thus, I sought to deepen my knowledge of the region, its history, current challenges, and potential solutions. How can I create a positive, ever-lasting impact on Saudi public policy for generations to come? How can I help lead the Middle East more broadly in its transition towards a knowledge-based economy? How can I empower youth in the region with tangible solutions and substantial opportunities? It is questions like these that shaped my interest in pursuing a higher degree in Middle Eastern studies.

Why did you choose CMES?

With a highly diverse and passionate array of students, and the flexibility to tailor a plan of study unique to my individual goals, CMES seemed like the perfect fit to pursue a master’s degree. The department provided me with an unparalleled opportunity to channel my passion into indispensable skills I can use to propel my career, and hopefully policy-making in the region. The challenges in the region require a potent response rooted in a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the Middle East and its rich history. I was impelled to join the CMES program precisely to gain such knowledge and insight.

Sultan Althari

What are your research interests?

My research interests have certainly evolved over the past few years—this evolution is best described as an evolution in the lens through which I study the Middle East. In terms of subject matter, my research is focused on public policy, political philosophy and the socio-economic development of the Middle East. I initially approached these topics through a theoretical academic lens, which deepened my appreciation for the richness and complexity of the region. Slightly frustrated with the theoretical confines, I sought to analyze these topics from a policy-oriented lens. I believe pursuing the best of both worlds will equip me with the intellectual and professional arsenal needed to address the region’s pressing challenges more effectively. Consumed by this balance between theory and practice, I wrote my senior thesis at Boston College about the correlation between Saudi youth empowerment and national development. To study this relationship, I employed both quantitative and qualitative methods in which one thousand Saudis were surveyed, thereby revealing statistically significant differences between perceptions according to survey variables (gender, age group, employment sector).

What do you like best about studying at Harvard?

The passion at Harvard has to be my favorite aspect of studying here—passion is evident in faculty and students alike, and I think that passion is at times passed on from faculty to students. Additionally, and more specifically, I’m an enormous fan of the environment at CMES—the department feels like one big family with a strong sense of community. I’d be remiss to not mention the master’s degree itself, which gives students the flexibility to cross-register into various schools within Harvard (HKS, HLS, GSD), affording us the opportunity to broaden our perspectives and research interests.

What do you like best about living in Cambridge?

Definitely the diversity; people in Cambridge come from all over the globe, and everyone has a unique story to tell and ambition to fulfill. That, and the delicious food options.

What kinds of extracurriculars have you pursued at Harvard?

As a proud Saudi, I took it upon myself to establish Harvard’s first official Saudi Student Association: a University-wide group dedicated to increasing cultural awareness about Saudi youth and the Kingdom more broadly. I believe that this association—through workshops, public lectures, student/faculty discussion groups, social gatherings, and cultural awareness events—will fill a gap on campus. An organized and inclusive community for Saudi students on campus is, I think, a great asset to the University and I’m proud to have taken initiative as its founder.

What are your plans after finishing your degree?

In the future, I plan to work in the Saudi public sector, and in the Kingdom’s emerging non-profit sector with organizations such as the MiSK foundation. I aim to transfer the values and skills I gain at Harvard University to my future career, with the hope of empowering Saudi youth. With over 65 percent of the Saudi population under the age of 30, I believe youth represent the country’s most valuable asset. One of my aims is to help create an environment infused with ambition, creativity, and dynamism for young Saudis to thrive and prosper. My hope is that the experience and education I acquire from Harvard’s CMES program will assist me in fulfilling that role, and pave the road for Saudi youth who look to positively impact policies for generations to come.

What advice would you offer a prospective student?

I would advise prospective students to take advantage of the opportunity to cross-register in different schools within Harvard, and to not be afraid to step outside of their comfort zones. CMES makes it easy to do so as it encourages students to test their boundaries within the inclusive and supportive framework it provides. For incoming students, I would advise them to simply relax, and try their best to embrace the uncertainty that comes with being a graduate student.