Emory Report
December 6, 2004
Volume 57, Number 14


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December 6 , 2004
Political Personality

BY Eric Rangus

Politics in Europe is just a bit different than it is in the United States. Politicians here hire armies of media advisers and operatives whose collective job is to craft the candidate's image through advertising, speeches and all manner of public appearances.

But it's a good bet no one came up with the idea to put, say, Cynthia McKinney's smiling face on the side of a bus.

"Politicians are a lot different here," says Sam Cherribi, assistant to the provost and senior lecturer in sociology, and he knows what he is talking about.

From 1994-2002, Cherribi was member of Parliament (MP) in the Netherlands, representing his hometown of Amsterdam. "They are very professional [in the U.S.], and they work very hard at things like fund raising. In Europe there is a lot of state support. Politicians don't work as hard to raise money for campaigns, but they do more for the people."

Cherribi accomplished a great deal while an MP. For instance, he created the first website to public post Dutch Parliamentary documents, breaking the law in the process since they were not for public consumption (the law was changed). He also was a leader in Europe's fight against cyber crimes.

In fact, Cherribi might still be a politician had he not been swamped by a sea change in Dutch politics. He lost his seat in 2002 when a conservative landslide swept out members of the ruling centerist coalition. Last summer, he ran unsuccessfully for the European Parliament--a race Cherribi admits he had little chance of winning--but that didn't stop him from making a go at it (or rolling out an advertising campaign that placed his picture in many places, including his campaign bus, which traveled the country in the final two weeks of the campaign).

Cherribi is a member of the Liberal party (VVD) in the Netherlands, a party that has run the Ministry of Finance, among others, in the coalition governments led by Labor party (PvdA) Prime Minister Wim Kok from 1994 to 2002. Cherribi describes the VVD in political philosophical terms as combining free markets with the welfare state. "It has a blue heart but a red economy," he says, showing an excellent grasp of the shorthand political vernacular on this side of the Atlantic.

He remains on the party's list of possible parliamentary candidates but says, if asked, he is unlikely to run. He is having too much fun in his new career, where he has been collecting responsibilities since the day he stepped foot on Emory's campus.

"When you are in politics, you are swimming with sharks," says Cherribi, whose political portfolio included foreign affairs, technology and education. As a Dutch MP he represented the Netherlands as a member of the Council of Europe (an assembly focused primarily on human rights), the West European Union (focused on defense and security) and twice served as a member of the Dutch delegation to the United Nations. He is fluent in Dutch, English, French and Arabic.

"I came here to Atlanta, this is such a nice place and integrating very easy," he continues. "Emory is such a welcoming place. You want to forget about politics."

Cherribi's election loss clearly is Emory's gain. Following his party's defeat in the 2002 election, Cherribi worked at his alma mater, the University of Amsterdam, for a time, and did some consulting and writing while considering his next move.

When his wife, Holli Semetko, was hired as vice provost for international affairs and director of the Halle Institute for Global Learning in 2003, Cherribi saw an opportunity. Excited at the prospect of working at the institution that was partnered with the Carter Center, with which he teamed while in the Council of Europe, Emory was exactly where he wanted to go.

"Countries in Northern Europe--Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Germany--give a great deal of support to the Carter Center because they genuinely believe in its philosophy," says Cherribi, who is the University's liaison to the Center. "President Carter is an icon in Europe, and Emory can really be a top global university in part because of its relationship with President Carter and the Carter Center."

One of Cherribi's goals is strengthening the relationship between Emory faculty and the Carter Center. A prime tool to accomplish that is the class, "Economic Development in Africa," one of three courses he is teaching this semester. A graduate-level class based in the Goizueta Business School, it was put together as a response to Carter's challenge to Emory students to become more involved in Africa.

Focused primarily on the northwest African country of Mali, Cherribi has used his many political connections to bring in a remarkable roster of guest speakers for his students. They include: Abdoulaye Diop, Malian ambassador to the United States; Mary Carlin Yates, U.S. ambassador to Ghana; Gordon Streeb, Carter Center staff person, visiting professor in economics and former ambassador to Zambia; Lomlu Sundararajan, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and George Vojta, former vice chairman of the board of the management committee of Banker's Trust Company. Vojta currently is working with the business school to launch an institute for sustainable development.

"Our work with the Carter Center is mainly research but there also is a lot of applied work, which is very important for the developing world," Cherribi says. He is a Dutch citizen but is keenly interested in Africa for good reason.

Cherribi was born in a costal town on the Atlantic Ocean in Mehdia, Morocco, in 1959. He was raised in nearby Kenitra, about 20 miles north of the nation's capital city, Rabat, which at the time was home to the largest American military base on the African continent. American families lived off base in his Kenitra neighborhood, and he has fond memories of surfing with the children of American servicemen, several of whom he keeps in contact with over e-mail.

In the 1960s several relatives emigrated to the Netherlands as guest workers. He often visited them as a teenager during his time as a student at the University of Rabat, and was impressed by Dutch democracy and society. After he emigrated to the Netherlands at the age of 22, he enrolled at the University of Amsterdam where he studied for a MA degree in sociology while also working in journalism and public-policy research.

He quickly became politically engaged but took a slightly different path than many other immigrants from North Africa, who tended to be socialists. The Liberal party interested him most; its leaders asked him to join, and Cherribi quickly became highly visible.

Cherribi wrote frequently about the lack of democracy on his home continent. "The biggest problem in Africa was socialism and communism; the ideology of the one-party state killed everything," he says. "I was unhappy and unsatisfied with Arab rulers in general and decided to move to a real democratic country, enjoy freedom there and maybe be an example for other politicians in Africa."

In 2000, Cherribi's saw his ideals bear fruit with the election of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal. Wade is a member of the Senegalese Democratic Party, which is affiliated with Liberal International, the same organization to which Cherribi's Dutch Liberal party belongs. That same year, Cherribi received his Ph.D. in social sciences from the University of Amsterdam.

While Cherribi is no longer involved in politics directly, his political know-how and networking ability have served him well since coming to this country. Another task he has taken on is that of interim director of the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship (CSPS) at Emory College, which has sponsored events on the U.S. elections, and on the politics of race, this semester. Cherribi spoke earlier this year on the topic of migration and homeland development at the Berkeley Center for Globalization and Information Technology (a center that examines the ramifications of globalization) at the University of California-Berkeley, and on the topic of migration and Europe at the University of Wisconsin's European Union Center. He also has been invited by the president of Georgetown University to speak there this spring.

He has his eyes on many things, but Cherribi clearly is focused on raising Emory's international profile, as well as opening up opportunities to faculty and students. "What is the role of a university in a city like Atlanta?" he says. "This is a global city, an international hub. What can we as Emory do to benefit Atlantans and share our knowledge?"

He speaks of leveraging some of his contacts within the European Union (EU) and Africa, and establishing various fellowships and internships (Cherribi has met not only EU representatives from many countries but also several heads of state; Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt actively supported his run for the European Parliament.)

"That's why American universities are much smarter than European universities," Cherribi says, waiting for just the right moment to drop a memorable line. "European universities would never hire a politician."