A 1998 graduate in Near Eastern studies, Jamal Qureshi was born to immigrant parents in Englewood, Colorado, he said, “My father is from Pakistan, and my mother is from Norway. I lived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, until I was ten years old. After that I grew up in Littleton, Colorado.”
While at BYU, Qureshi attended the Jerusalem Center in the intensive Arabic program. “I was privileged to serve a mission to London, England, where I received my second education in world affairs—meeting people from over 140 different countries and territories and getting to work frequently on my Arabic skills,” he explained.
“My Arabic language instruction and courses in both ancient and modern history of the Middle East stand out as having set the thought patterns that laid the ground for my professional career,” said Qureshi. “Having lived in Saudi Arabia as a child, where my father worked as an expatriate engineer for the state oil company, Saudi Aramco, I came in with an interest in the Middle East, but I left BYU with a much deeper understanding of the social and political dynamics driving events in the region.”
He credits Professors Michael Rhodes (Ancient Near Eastern History), James Toronto (Islam and the Gospel), Dilworth Parkinson (Arabic), and teaching assistant Nader Neiroukh (Arabic—Jerusalem Center) as the instructors who taught him far more than “the subject matter of their courses.”
In his final year at BYU, Qureshi was admitted to two prestigious programs: the MA program in international relations and economics at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) at the American University in Cairo.
“I deferred my admission to SAIS for one year, and having just gotten married, took my wife off on a one-year crash course in the Middle East in Cairo (she was able to spend the year working at a local pre-school, where she loved teaching both Egyptian and expatriate children),” Qureshi recounted. “I was fortunate to also have received funding for my intensive Arabic studies at CASA from the Fulbright foundation, which provided an opportunity to meet numerous scholars in many fields of research in Egypt. The CASA experience was unforgettable and gave me the opportunity to make a major leap in my Arabic skills. I must say, however, that without my time in BYU’s Arabic program, and specifically the intensive Arabic program in Jerusalem, it would have been hard to reach the level necessary to be accepted into CASA. Indeed, there always seems to be a significant number of BYU students who make it into CASA alongside people from far more high-profile institutions.”
Following that intensive year-long experience, Qureshi did not opt for relaxation. “After our year in Egypt, I did a summer internship at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem in 1999. Jerusalem is a small post, and at the time had no Arabic-speaking Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) assigned to it, so I was fortunate to immediately participate in a meaningful way” attested Qureshi. “I learned a great deal about the pros and cons of life as an FSO, as well as the manner in which Washington utilizes its diplomats around the world—sometimes commendably, sometimes quite poorly. In addition to writing several cables, I and another intern wrote the first-ever State Department Religious Freedom Report for the Palestinian Territories. To this day, our report is the benchmark from which subsequent FSOs have based their reports.”
That summer did allow for reunions with former classmates and church service. “We revisited friends I had made while a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center. I also tried to make myself useful to the Church by writing a report that I gave to church officials summarizing the status of Palestinian church members throughout the Occupied Territories at the time,” said Qureshi.
He and his wife, Chanthavone, returned to the States, where Qureshi began school at SAIS. “I chose a concentration in the energy, environment, science, and technology program, as I felt that I already had a solid regional background in Middle Eastern issues and needed to gain some more practical skills. Along those lines, I also did an economics sub-concentration in international finance, and cross-enrolled in marketing and accounting courses at the University of Maryland’s MBA program,” he said. “SAIS provided an immensely satisfying intellectual atmosphere from both top-notch instructors (many internationally-recognized experts in their fields) and an incredibly diverse and international student body. My experiences as a missionary meshed nicely with others who had been in fields as diverse as the peace corps, venture capitalism in Southeast Asia, the Latin American power sector, international journalism, and Wall Street to name just a few.”
With little actual work experience, Qureshi took advantage of a connection and employed much persistence to undertake several internships during his time at SAIS. “In the summer of 2000, I interned at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Interna-tional Affairs (OASIA). A friend in my local ward is a high-level employee of the department and pointed me to where I should apply after he heard I was looking for an internship. I was in the Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia office, and, despite being a relative novice at economics and knowing next to nothing about the region, I suddenly found myself assigned as the temporary Treasury Department desk officer for Latvia and Lithuania! In practical terms, that meant reviewing all IMF documents concerning the countries and making any comments on the proposed plans from a U.S. government perspective,” he said. “I also worked on other projects such as writing a report on the Russian electric power industry restructuring, and would occasionally represent the Treasury Department at the inter-agency task force on the proposed Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
“For my second internship I wanted to work in the private sector, so after sending in resumes and talking to former employees I got on with Taylor-DeJongh, a firm that performs advisory services to structure financing packages for large infrastructure projects worldwide. The firm has a particular focus on the Middle East and Latin America, with my own work there largely involving performing due diligence research on markets in those and other regions,” said Qureshi. “Perhaps one of the most obscure but interesting tasks was research on wireless phone markets in Africa. It was pretty interesting to see tiny countries, sometimes wracked by civil war or famine, with wireless phone networks whose technology far exceeded American networks (my Internet communication with a Sudanese operator at Sudatel became a prime example). After completing a course on modeling power projects at SAIS, I corrected the financial model for a proposed Brazilian power plant, too.
“My third internship, also in the private sector, was in the firm with which I am now employed, PFC Energy. After meeting several of the senior analysts at the firm during on-campus presentations at SAIS, and after one prior failed attempt to get an internship with them, I contacted a SAIS alumni who worked at the firm who thought highly of me and set up interviews at the firm for me. The result was a brief two-month internship during my last semester at SAIS. In fact, this was more of a trial period for possible full-time employment than an internship, and I was essentially asked to show my abilities through my work at the time,” Qureshi divulged. “Thankfully the internship went well, and, after some further conversations during the summer, I did receive a full-time job offer.”
During the summer of 2001, after his graduation from SAIS, Qureshi interned with the Upstream Public Affairs Division of ExxonMobil in Houston, Texas. “I specifically requested to intern with the upstream division in Houston. That summer with a very large private sector firm was a nice complement to my previous internships with the government and small private sector firms. I was exposed to an entirely different type of organization, where I conducted a study of social and political trends in Tamaulipas, Mexico, for the first half of the summer, and then was transferred to the Middle East and Central Asia office where I participated in the budget process for the region and conducted analysis on political trends in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere,” he said. “Coincidentally, at the end of the summer I also helped negotiate a consulting agreement between ExxonMobil and PFC Energy that involved past (and future) colleagues from the latter.”
With his varied experience and degree in hand, Qureshi did not lack for job offers. “I credit my time at BYU with having given me the foundation of knowledge that guided me into my interest into geopolitical affairs, which in turn led me to explore the range of opportunities available. It was that exploration of opportunities that showed me that international affairs encompasses a vast array of fields, with energy issues being one that I have found a great deal of interest in—thanks to its direct connections to politics, economics, and U.S. foreign policy,” he offered.
Eventually deciding on the offer from PFC Energy, he accepted a position as a Global Oil Market and Middle East analyst. “Though an offer from the Foreign Service remains open through the end of this year, I started this job the week after 9/11 and quickly found the firm embroiled in analyzing what the attacks would mean to the international system. Our clients include energy companies of all sizes, governments, and financial institutions. All of them had a dire need to understand the impact 9/11 would have on their operations and bottom line,” explained Qureshi. “Since joining PFC Energy, I have been trained to understand and analyze global and regional oil market supply, demand, and inventory fundamentals. While there are many consulting firms out there who understand the quantitative aspect of oil markets, what I like about us is that we are one of the few firms that has a strong grasp of both the numbers and the geopolitical issues that are crucial to understanding them. For me, that means opportunities to continue to utilize and expand my knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs and Washington politics to inform our analysis, as well as building new knowledge of other regions of the world and energy markets.”
On the home front, life is just as busy. “My wife is blessed to be a full-time homemaker. Our eldest daughter Jamilah Sengdao is two years old and keeps us very busy with her hyper fun streak. Our twin sons Tor Anouvong and Raad Anourak (our “Sons of Thunder”—both mean thunder, Tor in Norwegian and Raad in Arabic) were born in October 2002 and are keeping life both hectic and fun,” he said. Qureshi recently had his computer-designed Arabic calligraphy piece of the Psalm of Nephi accepted for exhibition in the Sixth Annual International Art Competition at the Church’s Art and History Museum in Salt Lake.
And as if that were not enough to keep him completely engaged, Qureshi is launching a nonprofit-sector initiative. “I am working with two fellow BYU alumni who studied Arabic (James Phipps in Washington, D.C., and Marvin Schroeder in Houston, Texas) to form a nonprofit organization called the Middle East Translation and Analysis Project (METAP) that will publish Middle Eastern press translations and analysis for distribution to key opinion shapers in Washington and beyond.”