Jordan/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

According to the paper by Milena Dragicevic-Sesic, the model used in applying cultural policies in Jordan is the mécénat/guardianship model, which is, according to her, the most lucid model in all Arab kingdoms and emirates in Mashreq.

In this model the royal family acts as a sponsor or often as an initiator of public events and public policy tools, such as funding documentaries or the Jordanian Song Festival as a means to promote the spirit of free adventure in music amongst youth[1].

The Ministry of Culture, the Greater Amman Municipality and their respective bodies  are also among the most prominent supporters of culture, in addition to cultural academies, foreign embassies and some private institutions. The prominence of such a model may be due to the lack of clear cultural policies with regard to cultural institutions themselves. In addition, the sponsorship model is to a great extent stalled by the bureaucratic system and frequent government reshuffles – which results in delays in approving and implementing projects.

This absence is not surprising given the fact that institutionalism assumes its role in an environment where institutions are more independent, where a pluralism party system exists and the political expression of citizens is developed, while the reality is that Jordan is a kingdom based on a traditional tribal system and the culture of the country is based on traditional elements and values that are very difficult to develop.

However, the mécénat model managed to achieve, by and large, a direct intervention to support culture and cultural activities. In many cases the Royal cultural sponsorship assumed its direct role in fostering and establishing several cultural institutions, such as the Royal Agency for Films, for example, and in organising important events such as the Jarash Festival for Art and Culture (which was held once a year from 1981 until 2008, when the Festival was transformed into the Jordan Festival  which acted in many cities in Jordan besides Jarash, until 2011, when the Jarash Festival was resumed to act again), the Jordanian Royal Commission for Films, while other projects  are pending such as the King Abdullah Culture House, Culture Support Fund, and other projects. Meanwhile, countless numbers of artistic projects were established by the initiative, while art programs in cultural institutes and artistic institutions were also supported.

In the years 2004 and 2005, Royal attention on culture reached the institutional level, when the Throne speech reflected on the improvement of the Ministry of Culture’s performance and an increase in its budget, which also led to the ratification of laws which were ignored for years, such as the Creativity Law.

On the other hand, the impact of the meeting between King Abdullah the Second and a number of Jordanian intellectuals in 2006 is still felt through the establishment of King Abdullah House for Culture and the creation of the Culture Support Fund by virtue of a Royal initiative, yet the centre had been an idea until now.

Worth mentioning here is that there are currently three main supporters of culture in the country: Royal sponsorship, which may be manifested later on in King Abdullah House for Culture and in the Culture Support Fund; the Ministry of Culture; and Municipality of Greater Amman, in addition to the agencies emanating from the Ministry and Municipality.

In fact, the effectiveness of the sponsorship model in Jordan is in large part due to the slow nature of the bureaucratic system and the quick succession of governments, which often slows the endorsement of projects or their progress.

Thus Royal sponsorship has played, on many occasions, an important role in accelerating the pace of cultural movement. Nevertheless, the impact of the Royal sponsorship of culture did not extend to the media and written press. And despite King Abdullah calling in his speech for a "freedom whose ceiling is the sky", the past five years have witnessed a lower ceiling for all types of freedom of expression. So how can the contradiction between the Royal Speech and its explicit text regarding freedom, and the actual practices of official institutions be explained? It is one of the questions which will be detailed in this research.

The elements of the model used to apply cultural policies in Jordan (if we conceded that such a model may exist in the absence of a cultural policy in the first place according to the plain text of the Cultural Development Plan) may be summed up as follows.

The concept of culture has two main elements:

  • The tangible, which includes religion, beliefs, customs, traditions, conventions, laws, language, literature and arts.
  • The intangible, which includes the creations of man (tools and equipment) or in other words, technological progress.

These elements exist in all cultures but taking a closer look at the material ingredient is absolutely necessary since we live in an area that is not much concerned with today's technological tools, which means that we live in a culture that is almost free of any material ingredients or that has material ingredients produced by other cultures.

The impact of this issue is evident in the existence of epistemic, moral, intellectual, social and literary gaps in dealing with certain cultural tools such as the internet for example, or in the lack of a contemporary art audience, or in the lack of a cinema industry, in addition to the relationship between the products of material culture as a whole within society itself, and its spiritual elements.

In this context, it is necessary to speak about the dominant values in Jordanian culture[2], considering that the elements of culture do not change, whereas the impact of these values moves these elements in various directions:

1. Family values
A tendency to underline affiliation rather than autonomy and independence, obedience at the expense of self-reliance. Adherence to values is not always prompted by individual conviction but as a response to external pressures.


2. Religious values
These are absolute values and, according to researcher Ahmad Al-Tal, these values are manifested in behaviour and are characterised by inflexibility and intolerance. These values also influence other ideas resulting in a situation where all issues are axioms and where political thoughts are absolute and social values are absolute too. As for Salafi values, they are attached to the past and overshadow the future. Mr Al-Tal mentions the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood as an example. This group believes that the regime walks in a valley away from Islam, and that it makes alliances with those who are the enemies of Allah, and makes an enemy with those who worship God. Given the influence of this group as a political party, and as an influence on Jordanians, also within official institutions, particularly the Jordanian Parliament (in which they have a considerable number of seats), we may sense the impact of the values, beliefs and thoughts of this group, and also the impact of their judgments on cultural projects, freedom of expression and the media, and cultural and social development.

[1] A paper presented in a workshop conducted by MAWRED in Beirut in 2009 entitled "Cultural Continuity" by researcher Milena Dragicevic-Sesic.

[2] Cultural Policies in Jordan between Reality and Ambition: Ahmad Yusef Al-Tal, p.89.

Chapter published: 04-05-2016