Syria/ 7. Public institutions in cultural infrastructure  

7.2 Basic data about selected public institutions in the cultural sector

Legal Development of the Cultural Institutions:

In late 2000, the Syrian government adopted a universal program for administrative, organizational and legislative reform, in order to develop and modernize the performance of the official institutions (Development and Modernization Project) through applying an ambitious and gradual strategy that aims to achieve economic and social reform, and introducing the social market economy.

On the cultural level, this program reconsidered reviewing the work of certain institutions, developing their performance, and reconstructing them in addition to training and qualifying the staff through ongoing courses in fields such as languages, computer, management, and other disciplines.

Moreover, the regulations governing the activities of major official cultural institutions were amended to help achieve the desired goals of cultural development (this process normally work through the issuance of presidential decrees and their implementation directives which clarify the legal and legislative framework needed to develop the working mechanisms in the institutions covered by these decrees, and clarify the suggested change). It also would give the official institutions more freedom to start new partnerships with civil and private sector institutions.

But despite of all these decrees that aimed to supporting and enhancing the cultural work through opening new horizons for it, in addition to restructuring certain official institutions while creating others that enjoy financial and administrative autonomy, and despite the fact that the cooperation with the private and civil sectors has been improved, observers believe that these laws have not been enforced in a way that might improve the cultural work environment. This is because of bureaucracy, lack of motives, traditional work methods, and the lack of managements with the ability to improve and develop the overall cultural activities in harmony with the ongoing regulatory and organizational changes. The weakness and incompletion of official cultural institutions appeared evidently after the events started taking place in Syria, as they were only an echo of the political authority and were not able to deal with the cultural dimension of the uprising besides through the vision of the ruling regime.

In Syria’s last cabinet formation, the Ministry of Administrative Development was introduced after which Presidential Decree No. 281 of 2014 was issued concerning setting the goals and tasks of the new ministry[1]. Its first article stated that the Ministry of Administrative Development aims to organize and develop the performance of public office and administration, improve its services to citizens and fight administrative corruption through the modernization of governing laws and legislations, institutional development, qualification of human resources and use of information technologies.

The ministry’s goals were set by Article 2 of the decree as 

setting an integrated strategy for administrative development and growth – review of internal systems of government agencies – setting frameworks, models, rehabilitation programs, and human resources – proposing legislative and procedural amendments to enable necessary management development…).

The first item of article 3 of the Presidential Decree stated the following:

By decision from the competent minister or director general in each ministry or agency or province or public institution the Administrative Development Unit shall replace the current administrative development directorates and these units are directly accountable to the minister or governor or director general of the relevant bodies, the Units are also technically responsible to the Ministry of Administrative Development and shall determine its structure based on decisions made by the Ministry of Administrative Development.

Therefore the Ministry of Culture and its bodies accountable to it will be incorporated and targeted within stipulated administrative development. 

In an interview about the cultural situations, during 6thAmrit Festival for culture and arts in Tartous, Minister of Culture, Dr. Riad Naasan Agha said: “the MOC employees are professionals who have nothing to do with culture and their job is to prepare a good environment for talented people. They don't have to give lectures about Gorky, yet they have high education”. He pointed out that, for six months, he had been “looking for a director for the Arab Cultural Center in Paris, but in vain! The same thing happened with Madrid and Bonn centers due to the lack of qualifications especially trust. This is a big problem and it is common in all ministries, which is the lack of qualifications”.

The observer can notice that intellectuals and creators are far from public and tend not to cooperate with the existing institutions for many reasons such as weak coordination and low salaries and cash rewards. This is the main reason behind the drop in the cultural activities supervised by the government parties.

Despite the foregoing, Syrian cultural observers can notice that, after 2000, culture in Syria tends to benefit from administrative and legal changes which, if adequately enforced, would be able to achieve development and modernization objectives.

Impact of Administrative and Legal Development Program on the MOC Structure:

In the first decade of the twenty first century, the MOC organizational structure has significantly changed and many affiliated institutions have been restructured by means of a series of laws and decrees that give cultural institutions more freedom in action and decision making.

The Syrian General Organization of Book has replaced the Directorate of Authorship and Translation by virtue of Law 8 dated 19/2/2006.

Dar al-Assad for Culture and Arts and whose name became later, Damascus Opera House, created by Legislative Decree No.19 dated 07.05.2003, was turned into a public organization under Law 54 of 2006 (Creating of public organization called Dar Al-Assad for Culture and Arts with a legal personality, and administrative and financial independence).

Law No.12 was issued in the year 2001 to protect intellectual property (rights of creator and artistic and cultural works on the Syria soil). Legislative Decree No. 62 of 2013 stipulating the application of the law concerning “protection of intellectual property and related rights”.

Working on changing the Directorate of Theater and Music and Directorate of Museum and Antiquities to public organizations with administrative and financial independence to reduce the red-tape and bureaucracy and consolidate institutional performance. This hasn’t been done as of September 2014 (the date of completing this research)

Working on amendments of laws concerning the General Organization of Cinema with the scope of renewal of its work mechanism and the work of Cinemas:


  • Decree (549 of 2000) allowing film import by anyone, repealed the old decree restrict movie import to the General Organization of Cinema.

  • Law (4 of 2001) exempts the movie theaters seeking renewal from customs duties and income and local administration taxes for five years.

  • Decree (2 of 2003) includes new customs duties exemptions and extension of the exemptions for eight years instead of five.

  • Law 69 of 2002 reduced the cinema support tax to 10% instead of 15%. Decision No. 16 of 2013 cancelled cinema support.

  • Decree 61 of 2004 cancelled the nightclubs duty plied to movie theaters.

  • Allow the owners of old movie theaters to reconstruct their premises provided the renewal is no less than 30% of seats before demolition (Prime Minister letter No. 6064/1 of 2005).

  • Reduce the theaters advertising fees by 50% (Prime Minister Memorandum No. 6064/1 of 2005).


Legislative Decree No. 118 issued on 22/9/2011 stipulates waiving current and future cinemas from customs fees, income tax and fees of local government for five years in order to make it easier to receive imported equipment to modernize and develop cinema theaters. By effect the Minister of Culture issued decision No.460, which included the executive list of the Legislative Decree.

A project to support youth cinema was launched by the General Organization for Cinema, and has now been running for three seasons and has supported the production of 65 short films. The first Syrian Youth Film Festival was held in 2014.

The MOC has adopted the development of performance mechanism of the Directorate of Child Culture and organizing child artistic competitions and children festivals, and through supporting other child-oriented projects based on diversified partnerships, through the MOC institutions in cooperation with civil organizations. An example of this is Adham Ismail Center for Plastic Arts, which has launched big child-art initiatives, in cooperation with child-oriented civil organizations or international organizations (UNECIF, etc...). One of these initiatives was the 25-m2 Civilizations Mural, in cooperation between Adham Ismail Center, Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and UNICEF, in April 2009, to provide psychological support to Iraqi children in Damascus and help them integrate with their peers. Another example is the child museum culture project of 2008, a partnership between General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, Educational Directorate, and the civil Rainbow Association.

Deploying Syrian cultural centers abroad, by creating both Madrid and Tehran Cultural Centers for Syrian cultural diffusion and Arabic language teaching.

The revival of Modern Art Museum in 2009 by allocating 250 million SYP in the MOC investment budget; implementing such projects as the Cinematographic City project, the Traditional Village in Rural Damascus and Dar Al-She’er [verses Home] through allocating necessary implementation budgets.

MOC adopted a collaborative and supportive strategy with non-governmental culture-oriented institutions. MOC undertook further opening toward partnership with the private sector and receiving financial support from this sector to cover some MOC activities, which was not usual before 2000.

In 2013 the Ministry of Culture laid out a plan to publicize and spread the culture of reading in all regions and villages in Syrian provinces.

According to what was said by the Minister of Culture during a meeting with the Budget and Accounting Commission at the Syrian people’s Council on 9/11/2013:

the Ministry is currently working on preparing a project for a law to protect cultural heritage in Syria and to promote archaeological sites, which also includes transforming the General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums into a public commission for archaeological heritage which aims to give licenses for opening new private museums.  

Administrative Development of the Ministry of Local Administration:

The three-year EU-funded project “Modernization of Municipal Administration”, which started in 2005 and targeted the councils of six major cities, is an important crossway at the Municipal Administration work level.

(Decentralization, local decision support center, institutional reform, financial resources management, property management, local development, center and twinning, urban Planning and informal settlement, old Damascus, geographic information system, public-private partnership, traffic and public transport, solid waste management, domestic agenda - gender, the vision and contacts). It ended on 10/6/2010 simultaneously with launching the program of non-centralism and local development, which is considered the second stage of the municipal administration renovation program with a budget of 22.5 million € and it remains for four years. The last update on the decentralization and local development project was a workshop on introducing the program held in the beginning of 2011.  On 24/8/2011, the legislative decree No.107 was issued which included the local administration law.

Administrative Development at the Ministry of Information level:

We should refer here to pre-2011, the starting date of the uprising and when the New Informational Law was issued as a result of the many changes that happened in the field of information. Laws that were issued prior to 2011 are:

In recent years, a series of laws has been issued to modernize the Ministry work mechanisms:

  • The Syrian Publication Act, issued by Legislative Decree No.50 for the year 2001, opened the door for the private media work, allowing private sector to work in the media and publish newspapers and magazines, after so many years of State monopoly. The MOI has licensed more than 200 private publications in different disciplines (political for The National Progressive Front parties, economic, cultural, social, health, scientific, advertising, etc).

  • Decree No.10 for the year 2002 allowed the establishment of private radio stations, but restricted the scope of these stations to entertainment programs and songs, without political and news bulletins, which are still restricted to the government media. Accordingly, the MOI has authorized 13 private commercial radio stations. In a way that’s against the decree that allows them to be established, these informational methods have worked, since the start of the uprising, on broadcasting news and political analysis programs.

  • Emergence of the first daily private political newspapers and magazines (that are in line with official trends) for example: Al-Watan and Baladna both daily newspapers, which publish official political news and focus on other sectors like: localities - economy, culture, and art. These newspapers operate in accordance with the free zone system.

  • Establishment and launching of 4 private Syrian satellite channels that broadcast from Syria (the Free Zone), these satellite stations licenses are limited to free zone, because the Publication Act does not allow private satellite channels, therefore, they broadcast in free zones (abroad) as a temporary settlement.

  • Premier letter No.6064/1 for the year 2005 reduced the commission of the Arab Establishment for Advertising from 50,000 SYP to 25,000 SYP.

  • Emergence of big private advertising and media groups like UG which turned to a stock company with a capital of 300 million SYP. It releases 10 publications on information, advertising, in addition to the road advertisement agency. 

  • Support the Syrian drama-industry through establishing government Channel called Drama in 2009.

  • Emergence of Syrian social and news websites and private news websites. The Publication Act didn’t not cover electronic media.

  • Turning the Syrian Arab News Agency "SANA" to a government TV news agency.

  • Working on turning the Arab Advertisement Organization to a publicity institution.

  • Establishing the Syrian company for publication distribution, instead of the current one, within Al-Wehda institution.

  • The Issuance of the New Information Law 2011.

  • Issued by Decree No.108, on 28/8/2011, which cancelled in the second article of ‘law of communication on web’ and Law No.68 for the year 1951 which was especially for the official system of television and radio, in addition to the publications law which was issued by legislative decree No.50 for the year 2001 and also legislative decree No.10 for the year 2002 related to private commercial stations. 

  • The Supreme Council of Information works on finding syndicates for all informational professions that are joined in a well-organized way by workers in this field. Also, the Law considered in its eighth article that the profession of information is an intellectual profession as to rights and duties.

  • The legislative decree No.20 was issued for the year 2011, which stated that the Arab Institution of Advertisement should be the only party supervising advertising activities in Syria. It also stated that one of the Institution tasks is to set restrictions and standards that organize advertisement activities which contribute to improving the level of advertisement performance and quality, and the practice of surveillance over an informational product in all advertising and informational methods. One of the Institution tasks as well, is granting permissions and licenses necessary to practice informational work. The decree also stated that private parties should be represented by two members only in the Institution administration council.

  • In 2011, the government issued the E-informational law under the name, “Law of Communication with Public on the Web”.

  • The National Council of Information has granted since it was founded in November 2011 and to present (according to a statement by the president) permissions to more than twenty publications, some of which are the daily social political cultural newspaper “Ash-sham” (whose owner is Amid Al Khouli who had worked before as the head editor of “Ath-thawra” Syrian newspaper), the weekly comprehensive newspaper “Al Manbar Al Hur”, and two magazines one of which is a law-oriented magazine named “Awrakit Al Mahakim”, and the other is a cultural and medical oriented magazine named “Al Kamal Attobbi”.

  • The president of the National Council of Information considered that some private stations acted outside their natural work mechanism during the crisis in Syria and there is an article in the new law that states, “All the permitted informational methods should modify their situation in a way that’s compatible with the new law, so to transform them, for instance, into comprehensive stations or other specializations. The time-period assigned is from 15/10/2011 to 15/10/2012. In case they were not modified, then they would be considered to be breaking the law. By this way, all stations can continue with what they have started or choose another specialization and abide to it.”

Development through informal culture-oriented organizations:

  • The establishment of the Syrian Publishers Association under Law 14 for the year 2005, issued by the president on 26/5/2005, was an important development of book printing in Syria.

  • On 27/6/2007, the country leadership of the Baath Party endorsed the election results and the appointment of representatives of ministries and Arab Writers Association. Thereby, the Executive Office was duly created.

  • Emergence of private cultural projects and institutions through civil and individual initiatives trying to support the cultural work. An example is Mustafa Ali’s (Al-Makan Society for Arts), which is a private, non-political and non-profit society; aimed to secure cultural and artistic exchange between East and West and support art projects, Echo Musical Culture, Serious Music Audiences Society, Music on the Road and Shams (orchestra concert organizer), to the deployment of public-music culture.

  • Organizing some art meetings (sculpture, drawing) by some figures. An example is Fares al-Hilou who organized Mashta Al-Hilou Gathering to collect donations and funding in order to attract local and immigrant artists, in 2007, with a visison to establish an outdoor sculpture museum, and a plastic art museum in Mashta Al-Hilou in 2008.

  • Financial contribution of some commercial and social figures through educational and artistic prizes. Those contributions are often for social prestige like Dr. Nabil Tomeh creativity prize, and (Nizar Kabbani Competition) introduced in 2008 by the Union of Arab Writers. All these contributions are within the frame of personal publicity.

  • Syrian paintings have entered the international auctions through the emergence of a new type of private art galleries (Ayyam gallery).

  • Appearance of several attempts to revive private movie theaters, for example, Damascus Touristic Cinema Project (Cinema City), with two halls: 280 and 180 seats.

Chapter published: 09-05-2016