Neil MacFarquhar served as New York Times Cairo bureau chief from 2001 through 2005 and is now its UN bureau chief. His Middle East expertise predates his Cairo assignment: he grew up in Libya and covered the region for the AP, including stints in Israel and Kuwait. An Arabic speaker, his understanding of the region has led to appearances ranging from national television news to the Tribeca Film Festival. He is the author of a novel, The Sand Café.

From his boyhood in Qadhafi's Libya to becoming Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times, the author set out to report on the changing mores (and lighter side) of the Middle East.

In an excerpt from his new book on the changing Middle East, a former New York Times Cairo bureau chief explains the wisdom behind religious fatwas—including a ban on owning a dog.