Jordan/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.2.1 Conceptual issues of policies for the arts

In a research paper presented at a meeting with King Abdullah II in 2007, Jordanian intellectuals identified the challenges faced by cultural development in Jordan as follows: an inability to market itself at home and abroad; weak activation of clear national policies and strategies for the cultural movement; poor coordination between the parties concerned with cultural issues;  a lack of financial resources to support creativity and cultural excellence; deteriorated living conditions of intellectuals, creators and artists; the prevalence of emerging cultural tendencies that are characterised by radicalism, intolerance and bigotry, as opposed to the Jordanian reality based on intellectual, political and cultural pluralism; as well as inappropriate legislation and regulations governing the cultural and artistic domain; the lack of a cultural database of artistic product by type and point of production; and weak infrastructure of the cultural sector in most governorates and a concentration of cultural action in the capital.

The Ministry of Culture held a symposium on "The National Strategy for Culture" in the Royal Cultural Centre to prepare recommendations for the II National Cultural Conference of 25 January, 2009. The work of the preparatory symposium for the Cultural Development Plan (2009-2011) concentrated on the main cultural development branches in the national agenda and the role of literature and the arts in cultural development, moderation in thought and culture, the media’s role in the national strategy for culture, and globalisation in its cultural milieu, with the participation of selected writers and intellectuals.

Intellectuals in this symposium called for new priorities which the cultural agenda of the government should take into consideration, including  concerns about equal opportunity for Jordanians to participate in political, economic and cultural activities, and for national Arab culture to be based on the tolerant teachings of Islam, aiming at modern rational belief in dialogue and in renouncing fanaticism and narrow-mindedness, in a time when charging creators of infidelity was increasing based on the wrong interpretation of literary texts in a religious way. Designing a national strategy for culture through a means of communication which addresses Arabic and non-Arabic speaking people was proposed. Intellectuals have also called for the development of policies to deal with the globalisation of culture in regard to media, literature, arts, education and business in the absence of Arab cultural projects, and the existing religious or ethnic conflicts and conflicts of identity since the Arab region is not concerned with talking about justice; but it can compensate for that with freedom. In addition, the call to defend freedom of expression and for the official authority (represented by the Ministry of Culture) to carry out the task of defending public freedom, was the foremost priority.

After this introductory symposium, the National Conference of Culture was held on 27 January,2009, and adopted 200 recommendations which dealt with different themes to prepare a plan of cultural development from 2009 until 2011. 24 Academics, intellectuals and artists lectured at the symposium.

Dr Nancy Bakeer, the Jordanian Minister for Culture at the time, stressed that these recommendations would be included in the Cultural Strategy and some would be part of a special supplement, pointing out that the Ministry would not neglect any idea or proposal to achieve this end. The participants were asked to hold annual meetings to review the implementation of the recommendations and programs and to establish a documentation centre in each ministry or government department. The main recommendations of this conference were the creation of a publishing house and a national theatre group for the promotion of cultural production in all its forms and offshoots, and the establishment of a cultural satellite TV channel with the participation of the private sector. It would contribute to cultural activities and projects and pay particular attention to documentation, training centres for staff and volunteers in the management of cultural works to keep up with developments and to activate dialogue between cultural institutions, and the use of technology to improve the delivery of Jordanian creative works internally and externally through developing a private Internet network for cultural bodies in the Kingdom.

The recommendations also included sharing the cultural movement of the capital Amman with the provinces and villages, and to deal with culture as a product which falls under economic development and partnership with the private sector to build cultural projects.

The participants called for building a partnership between the Ministry and civil society organisations with interest in cultural industries and in the protection of  the Arabic language, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and the other parties.

Another term of the National Conference for Culture was held under the title, “Culture and Variables” in the summer of 2012. Similar recommendations resulted, in addition to requests for: reactivating the art and culture support fund; innovating cultural legislations to be able to protect culture and promote its role; and establish a high council for culture and arts side-by-side with the Ministry of Culture. It was approved that the National Conference for Culture would be held periodically, with each period addressing a specific cultural question.  

Some of the priorities of the Ministry of Culture as referred to by the current Culture Minister, Sabri Rbaihat, in a long interview conducted at the beginning of October 2009 addressing the cultural reform movement in the Ministry included:

  1. The creation of an artistic, cultural, high-quality product which is available for future generations, to contribute to its restructuring and reconstructing.
  2. Building the missing culture of museums and strengthening their relationship with the public.
  3. Developing and deepening the culture of dialogue.
  4. Closing the gap between the creative elite in society and the local communities, and facilitating interaction in an atmosphere that reflects positively on the cultural mood and on local communities. There are many cultural centres that are still, despite their enormous capacity to absorb the cultural scene in all its detail, have much fewer visitors than what is required and desired. The Ministry of Culture hope to double the number of visitors this year, and double the visitors of the following year in order to close the gap between the institutions and their visitors, and to create a state of harmony between these institutions and people.
  5. Working on building the institutional capacity of workers in the management of culture, and develop a clear action plan and programs for all. There is a distinct inability in managing cultural activity.[1] There is a difference between the approach to work according to what is available, and work with a  clear policy.
  6. Enhancing freedom of cultural creativity and working to free it from dependency.
  7. Introducing the cultural movement in Jordan through publishing, translation, symposiums, conferences, festivals, exhibitions, and the like.

On the other hand, the issue of the creator's freedom of creativity, belief and thinking is complicated and a subject of widespread debate these days, especially after suing the creator and charging him with infidelity has become a possible threat. Last year, there were many cases of this from banning books to charging writers with infidelity and sending others to court.

The Intelligentsia Centre for Research and Studies conducted a study on "Creative Freedoms and the Rights of Creators" in 2009, in order to identify the Jordanian creators' views about the obstacles that stand in the way of creative freedoms, and the types of harassment they fear, and how they obtain their rights over their creations, and the need to develop legislation on creators' rights to freedom, and the financial viability of their achieved creative works. The research sample included 520 members of the literati, artists, plastic artists and other creative people.

The results were as follows: 48% of the sample said that they felt the presence of an external censor on them while exercising their creative work; 44% of them said they did not feel that censorship. In terms of the existence of self-censorship while exercising their creative work, 57% of the respondents said they felt the presence of a self-censor on them while exercising their creative work, while 41% said they did not feel that way.

In regard to the harassment which creators face due to their creative work, 47% said that they feared being harassed because of their creativity, and 35% responded that they did not experience it. The reasons for such apprehension varied among the members of the sample, as it was found that 43% of respondents feared being harassed because of their creative work for political reasons, and 46% said they did not fear political reasons being behind the harassment. Regarding social causes, 38% replied that the reasons that might cause their harassment would be social and 56% responded that this would not be the case for them. Concerning religion, 53% mentioned that the reason for their fear while working on their creative work would be religious, and 42% claimed religious fear was not a factor. 78% of the respondents said that there was a need to develop laws which are related to freedom of creativity and 15% thought that there was no need to develop these laws.

[1] Long interview with current Minister of Culture Sabri Rbaihat abou the required reforms in the ministry, Ar-rai newspaper, Sun. 11th. Oct.2009.

Chapter published: 04-05-2016