Rana Khalaf

Thesis title

'Dealing with Governance during Conflict, a Key to Peace? The Case of the Syrian Conflict'


This PhD thesis argues that the most critical time for peace and state building, if it is to be sustainable, is during and not post conflict. It further argues that governance is key in this pursuit. Nonetheless, academic research during conflict is yet limited. Thus, with the ultimate quest of building sustainable peace in conflict-torn states, this proposal aims to research the currently understudied dynamics of governance during conflict. It focuses on the Syrian conflict from years 2011-2018 as a case study.

Centred on the theory of “hybridity”, this PhD research aspires to first create a robust framework to understand governance during conflict. Potentially, this framework shall seek to understand the extent to which governance is a hybrid of, first, old and new governance imbalances and, second, of local and international forces, and third, of civil and uncivil forces. In doing so, the framework will refer to dynamics related to the issues of the deep state, the neoliberal peace, terrorism, tribes, identity, activism and social movements. The framework shall build on cases from war-torn fragile states (e.g. Bosnia, Somalia, Lebanon and Afghanistan) and compare their dynamics to an in-depth analysis of the Syrian case. The Syrian case shall focus on five parts of Syria controlled by different governance actors (1. the Syrian Ba’athist regime, 2. the Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), 3. the Turkey military intervention of Operation Euphrates Shield and 4. The Free Syrian Army rebel groups). The study shall pay particular attention to the agency of civil society vis-à-vis other local and international state building interests. Supported by my intensive quantitative and qualitative research on Syria, and my participation in some of the track II confidential peace talks, this assessment will benefit from unique access to primary data on Syria during its conflict.


Research interests

  • Local governance during conflict; peace building; social movements and civil society; women; youth
  • Geographical focus: Syria and the Middle East North Africa Region

Teaching interests

  • Local governance, civil society and social movements in conflict-torn states
  • Contemporary Syria
  • Women and peace-building

Professional background

Currently pursuing her PhD with the Humanitarianism & Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester, Rana has and continues to work as an independent research consultant. She is the author of key publications on Syria that seek to bridge the gap between the worlds of civil society, academia and policy-making in conflict-torn states. Her work spans across local governance, civil society, youth and women, in the MENA region. She has over 12 years of experience working with grassroots movements, civil society organisations, governments and private and multilateral institutions in different capacities.

Some of the organizations she has provided consultancy for include the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the European External Action Service of the European Commission, Badael Foundation, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the UNDP Bureau for Development Policy and the League of Arab States.

Rana is also an academy associate at Chatham House and a non-resident fellow with the University of St Andrews.

Previous Education

  • Introduction to Internet Governance, Diplo Foundation, online
  • MSc Development Administration and Planning, University College London
  • BSc (Chemistry Major, Business Minor), American University of Beirut

Why I’m doing a PhD at HCRI

I was attracted to the HCRI following the work of my supervisor – Roger Mac Ginty. His work, and that of other brilliant academics at the HCRI is unique in its ability to provide academic work on conflict that is relevant, usable, and as importantly impactful as it relates to the field and to the policy worlds. I wanted to be part of a research institute with such capability to bridge the gap between these worlds and there was the HCRI.


Journal articles

  • Khalaf, R., (2015). Governance without Government in Syria: Civil Society and State Building during Conflict, St Andrews: Syria Studies Journal.
  • Khalaf, R., (2014). Beyond Arms & Beards: Local Governance of ISIS in Syria. Caliphates & Islamic Global Politics.


  • Khalaf, R., et. al, (2017). Women Participation in Syrian Cities Today: Emerging Roles and Opportunities - A Preliminary Scoping Review on Governance and Productivity. Syrian Echoes Newsletter.
  • Khalaf, R., (2016). Governing Rojava: Layers of Legitimacy in Syria. London: Chatham House.
  • Khalaf, R., Asad, R. and Tawil, R. (2016). Women in Emerging Syrian Media (2011 – 2015) : A Critical Discourse Analysis. The Netherlands: The Syrian Female Journalists Network.
  • Khalaf, R., Ramadan O. and Stollies, F. (2015). Activism in Difficult Times – Civil Society Groups in Syria (2011-2014). Beirut: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung / Badael.

Short articles/expert comments

  • UNA – UK. (2017). Perspectives: Syria’s Stakeholders. The Syria Issue.
  • Khalaf, R., (2016). Syria: Destruction of Civil Society Means Dictatorship, Extremism & Displacement. Chatham House


  • Khalaf, R. (2013). Thematic Guidebook for the World Programme of Action for Youth. Beirut: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

Unpublished work

  • Khalaf, R. (2013). Syria: Social Protection as Development? Beirut: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Background paper.
  • Khalaf, R. (2013). Lebanon: Social Protection as Development? Beirut: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Background paper.

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