Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy

What were you doing before you came to ODID?

Before joining ODID, I had worked for over ten years in international development with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. I led research projects for FHI360 (USAID contractor) on aid and security with a particular focus on Yemen. Prior to this and following the Arab uprisings in 2011, I launched a research unit at the Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo, as well as the Muslim Philanthropy Digital Library to look at shifts in practices of philanthropy and civic engagement in the region. I also served as a resource person and consultant to the Salzburg Global Seminar, the Atlantic Council, the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the African Grantmakers Network, the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Cairo Regional Center for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa (CCCPA), Social Surveys Africa and the United Nations Volunteers’ (UNV) Programme, among others. I started my career as an editor at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and a teaching assistant at Alexandria University.

Tell us a bit about your research

My thesis contributes to an understanding of the roots of Libya’s state failure. It is a historical examination of the role of non-state actors – supporting, neutral and corrosive – in state building in Libya between 1911 and 1969. It is the argument of this thesis that Libya’s failure at state building is not only the result of its experience with modern state formation as a post-colonial country but that it is also the result of the fragmentation of its social capital, manifested in the dynamics of development and regression within its civil society. The thesis argues that a model of decentralized statehood that takes into account the centrality of those divisions to Libyan identity is the path forward out of the current crisis. It also posits a definition of the state that departs from a monopoly on violence that is based on authority (Weber 1918) to a negotiated monopoly on violence that is based on bargaining social capital between different nodes of power, local and regional. Using primary data from archives in London, Rome and Tunis as well as 80 semi-structured interviews, this research makes a contribution to a social history of 20th-century Libya by exploring three non-state actors (associations and civil society organizations, trade unions and religious organizations), and their engagement with governing structures, colonial or otherwise.

What drew you to your field of study?

Towards the end of 2011, while I was at the American University in Cairo, I received an invitation to the University of Benghazi in Libya to give a talk on the experience of Arab youth in the uprisings that started in Tunisia in 2010 and then spread to Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and others. This was a turning point for me. I’d never been to Libya before 2011 so I couldn't compare to what it would have been like under Gaddafi but what I witnessed was a traumatized population that was exceedingly resilient. Upon my return to Egypt, I spent days at the library in AUC reading about the history of Libya and realized that historical accounts of Libya’s past are quite scarce and mostly written by Italians about Italians in Libya and not about the Libyan people. My thesis seeks to fill this gap by putting together an account of civil society in Libya in the period preceding Gaddafi and the role it played in the formation and erasure of a Libyan state.

Why did you choose ODID/Oxford?

I chose ODID because it values interdisciplinary research and because I saw myself benefitting from the expertise that its faculty members had to offer.

What do you particularly value about ODID?

I value my colleagues and the company of bright and intelligent people.It’s contagious.

What would you say has been your best experience at Oxford?

My best experience will be my graduation!

What are you hoping to do after you finish?

I want to continue ploughing into the nexus between aid, security and development, and to put academic rigour to the service of the public and people in need. I want to always be able to put research into practice.

Find out more about the DPhil in International Development


I want to continue ploughing into the nexus between aid, security and development, and to put academic rigour to the service of the public and people in need.