Syria/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.6 Other relevant issues

Foreign cultural policies (foreign centers, institutions, institutes, etc.)

Syrian cultural centers abroad: These centers and cultural missions at Syrian embassies (supervised by the Cultural Administration/Foreign Ministry) are in charge of disseminating Syrian culture and arts outside Syrian borders, consolidating cultural and artistic cooperation, and introducing Arab culture to the world by organizing seminars, lectures, cinematic shows, and exhibitions. Syrian cultural centers abroad facilitate teaching the Arabic language by organizing language courses.

Foreign cultural centers in Syria: These centers are bound by the limits of cultural activities stipulated in their mandates and may not conduct any activity that may harm the Syrian Arab Republic or violate its laws.

Foreign cultural centers in Syria coordinate with the Directorate of Cultural Relations/Ministry of Culture, which is the assigned administrative body to supervise the those centers’ activities.

Foreign cultural centers and institutions are subject to the provisions of their agreements and to national laws in all matters provided for in these agreements and are exempted from customs tariffs, municipal fees, and other.

Foreign cultural centers represent vital points in the Syrian cultural life, despite the decrease of its audience to certain social and age group categories, these centers apply the cultural policies of their respective countries and they seek to introduce their culture and social heritage, disseminate their languages and promote their intellectuals and artists. However, there are clear variances between these centers which work on basis of very private agenda of their mother countries such as the German Cultural Center in Damascus, and those adopting parallel policy to that of the foreign policy of their mother countries, but adapt their programs to be less direct and more closer to the Syrian public and artists such as the Spanish Cultural Center.

Cultural Policies in the Independent (Civil) Sector

The most circulated terminology in the cultural scene in Syria before the uprising was “the Independent Artist”, independent organization, (non-governmental organization - NGO) while there was an agreement not to use “Civil Society Institutions” terminology due to the political implication it carries and change it to “National Society Institutions” with its local implication, far from the definitions of citizenship and participation.

Law 93 of the cooperatives and private institutions law issued in 1958, regulates the activities of NGOs, this law assigned the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor(formerly) to be the authority in charge of this Law management, including giving it the powers to dissolve any civil cooperative[1]. In 2013, a presidential decree was issued regarding modification of ministries. Thus, the previous ministry has now become two ministries (the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor). It was mentioned on the Attasharukiya website that the Ministry of Social Affairs was assigned to set up a project for modifying the law of institutions completely (Law 93 of the year 1953) towards the active participation of national societies in social and economic affairs and others.[2]

It was also mentioned in the local administration bylaw for the year 2011 in article 38 within the tasks of the executive office of the governorate council (all the governorate specializations such as laws and regulations, especially for organizing the work of national societies, apply).

There are only few firmly-established civil associations in Syria such as "Art Friends", "Damascus Friends Cooperative" and “Adiat Cooperative" which was founded in Aleppo and spread to other governorates such as Tartous, Homs, and Sweida. On the other hand, there are some newly established associations such as "Rainbow Cooperative", "SHAMS Cooperative" and "SADA Cooperative" – “Syrian Social Forum”.

In 2010, the First International Conference for Development was held in Syria in which the reinforcement of the national sector role in development was assured as well as the significance of vital diversity in the Syrian national societies. There are other institutions that work in various fields like environment, culture, welfare, development, rural, scientific research centers, and medical research centers. Before the crisis began in Syria, we started to sense a dramatic change to the reality of the national sector, and witnessed a noticeable increase to the number of institutions and societies working in this field. The increase has exceeded three hundred percent in the past five years (2005 – 2010).

It’s not sufficient, considering the challenges that cultural groups and institutions face today as a lack of skills. Instead, we ought to search for the reasons that led to the absence of a policy or a vision in this sector. These organizations have faced, for so long, a number of challenges that make strategic action within a specific vision a difficult task, since they are not independent in the true sense of the word, because it has not the authority to decide its own internal decisions. They are also unable to get overseas funding for their projects directly but through the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, formerly.

The international cooperation and planning commission is considered, according to article (11) of its foundation law (law number (1) issued on 5/1/2011), the official gate between the Syrian Arab Republic and the rest of the world and the only resource regarding all non-military, non-security and non-political cooperation with countries and regional groups, and international and regional financial organizations and institutions. It’s also considered the only channel through which contacting foreign and Arab countries, regional groups, organizations, and international and regional funding institutions for acquiring loans, grants and technical help for development funding is done in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others.  We still haven’t verified yet the efficacy of these new laws on societies’ activities and funding.

Cultural Policies in the Private (Commercial) Sector

There is no clear policy adopted by the private commercial sector and its contribution is cautious financial assistance purely for publicity purposes without any clear strategy or vision. The state provides only moral incentives to encourage the private sector take part in supporting the country cultural activities.

The role of the private sector in Syria cultural life is restricted to individual initiatives launched by some businessmen for primarily profit purposes. The culture industry in Syria is all but absent, with the exception of a small number of companies such as:

  1. Doubling companies for series and cartoons most of which are still operating in Syria up until the date of this research.

  2. Animation production companies (there were only two such companies in Syria but they are merely executive services companies for Gulf TV stations). With the closing down of one of these companies, a new company (Ox Animation) appeared in 2010.

  3. Commercial theatre: comedic and humorous plays are highly popular amongst certain social categories. We have not researched recent commercial plays in Syria.

[1]Law of non-governmental organizations will be explained in detail in Chapter Five.

[2]Website of the International cooperation and Planning Commission:

Chapter published: 06-05-2016