Born in Aleppo, Syria, Chawaf moved to Paris in 1981. She studied French Literature and Culture in Damascus and Linguistics and Translation in Paris. She became a member of the Institut du monde arabe in Paris in 1992. Since 2013, she is responsable for its cinema activities, and the delegate general of the Festival des cinémas arabes. She has also been part of the editing team of many cinema publications, including Égypte, cent ans de cinéma (1995).