Jordan/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Samah Hijawi, Nawal Al-Ali

Socio-cultural perspective

Jordan remained a part of Natural Syria until 1921 when the Eastern Jordan Emirate was founded and put under the British Mandate. French and British colonisation divided the Arab lands shortly after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Despite Britain’s recognition of the independence of the Eastern Jordan Emirate on 25 July, 1923, and a promise to set an agreement to stabilise the relationship between the two countries and adopt a constitution for the new born state, the first Jordanian British Treaty on 20 February, 1928, did not fulfil the demands of Jordanians for an independent, full-sovereignty state. As a result, the Jordanian people were outraged and sought to hold the first national conference to discuss the terms of the treaty and agree on a political agenda. The national conference was held in Amman on 25 July, 1928, with many of the country’s sheikhs and elites participating. This conference, considered a legislative representative of the Jordanian people, led to an implementing committee that took charge of leading the Jordanian national movement, as well as issuing “the Jordanian National Charter” as the first national political document with a specific agenda. According to researcher Hani Al-Amad in his book "Cultural Policy in Jordan", the citizens of this Emirate were dispersed as follows: 65% peasants, 30% Bedouins and 5% workmen who lived in rural villages or small communities. Education was available up to 6th grade, at 21 schools, and in the Turkish Language because of the prevailing Ottoman heritage. The United Nations agreed on putting an end to the British Mandate over Jordan on 25 May, 1946, and the second British – Jordanian Treaty was signed. In this Treaty, Britain recognised the independence of Eastern Jordan under the name of The Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom. The Jordanian legislative council held meetings right after the meetings of the municipal councils, and the majority agreed on announcing the Jordanian lands as one independent state with a monarchy and parliamentary government. Abdullah Bin Al-Husain was granted a pledge of allegiance as a legislative king.  

In May 1948, Jordanian and Arab armies lost battles to the Jewish militias that announced the birth of the Israeli state over Palestinian soil and as a consequence, a truce line was drawn which added the West Bank to Eastern Jordan. The Jordanian State Council, the representative of the two banks, announced a decision to support the unity in 1950. Approximately 100,000 refugees crossed the Jordan River and sought sanctuary in temporary camps, schools and mosques or cities and villages. The refugees stayed in tents until the end of the fifties, when the UNRWA replaced the tents with houses made of bricks. The population of the Kingdom had doubled due to the migration of Circassians, Armenians, Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians (prior to Nakba), so that the demographic balance changed in 1950 to the following: 45% peasants, 26% Bedouins and 29% city workmen and city dwellers. In 1952, the Kingdom’s population reached 586,200 of which 300,170 were male.

Jordan was amongst the six members that founded the Arab League in 1945 and joined the United Nations in 1955. King Talal Bin Abdullah issued the Constitution in 1952, while in 1956, King Al-Hussein Bin Talal announced a nationalising of the leadership of the Jordanian army by relieving the English general, Glubb Pasha, from his post as a commander of the Jordanian army, handing in the leadership to Jordanian officers. In 1957, the British–Jordanian Treaty was terminated.  At the end of 1956, the first multiple-party-and-politics Jordanian elections were conducted and a parliamentary ministry was founded.

In 1961, the population of the Kingdom reached 900,800, a quarter of which lived in the capital, Amman. As a result, all aspects of development in the capital were enhanced including culture, education and the economy. This also helped, to some degree, to build economic stability, and greater attention was given to the cultural sector.

As a consequence of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, another wave of refugees headed to Jordan. 140,000 new arrivals were recorded as refugees according to the UNRWA alongside approximately 240,000 people from the West Bank who were referred to as “displaced” (since the West Bank had administratively belonged to Jordan between 1948 to 1967). Four camps were established on the eastern bank of the Jordan River as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, with a further six following the 1967 Arab–Israeli war. There are also three other compounds in Amman, Zarqa and Madaba that are considered camps by the Jordanian government, while the UNRWA see them as “unofficial”. (UNRWA website)

Following “Naksa” (the Arabic word for catastrophe, which was the name given to the war between Arabs and Israelis in 1967), the government encouraged art production concerned with nationalistic emotions, resistance, national allegiance, the desire to defend the country, and related historical research. Influences varied at that time between western orientations, Arab and Islamic heritage and political and economic events.

Jordan faced multiple political events that were notable and effective for example: the Al-Karamah battle of 1968; the events of September in 1970 when the Jordanian regime confronted the Palestinian militia; direct struggle with political parties; and the cessation of parliamentary acts. The consequences of these events badly affected Jordanian stability to the point that the Jordanian government felt urged to follow a “tightened grip” policy in the fields of politics, the economy and culture. Al-Yarmouk University was founded in North Jordan by a royal decree in 1967. The conflict between the government and the political parties continued until a democratic transition was recognised by holding parliamentary elections in 1989, for the first time in 22 years. In 1992, political parties returned to the political scene. Civil institutions concerned with culture appeared simultaneously as a new wave of Palestinian refugees fleeing Kuwait arrived, along with Iraqis following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  Despite financial and social burdens, Jordan seemed to have a cultural renaissance benefiting from Iraqi writers and artists who had migrated to or via Jordan after the Gulf War in 1991. However, it did not stay long due to the absence of a clear cultural agenda and the focus on heritage more than modernity. The increase of conservative and religious trends resulted in some social changes. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel in Washington after “separation” between the two Banks in 1988. After the second Gulf War in 2003 and the Syrian uprising in 2011, Iraqi and Syrian refugees kept flowing into Jordan, and this continues today.

The social-cultural religious structure of Jordanian society can be considered as the reference upon which to build cultural policies. The clan system is one of these pillars.

Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments

At the time of the Emirate, the specialised and context-specific periodicals were few compared with the varied and context-divergent periodicals, for instance, “Al-Hamama” (1923) and “Fatat Al-Ghad” (1950), while more varied periodicals were issued by As-salt secondary school (1937), Amman secondary school (1939), Al-Mutran (1940) and Arrabtah (1944). “Athakafa Wil Ta’awon” (1944), “Al-Urdun Al-Jadid” (1950), and “Al-Fikr” (1950) and others were interested in cultural subjects.

Since the demographic structural change, resulting from the  compulsory migration of Palestinians to Jordan in 1948, there has been a need for expanding cities, educational development and an increase in the number of schools, income development, and a law for culture.

“Al-Ufuq Al-Jadid” cultural magazine was issued in Jerusalem in 1961-1966, and the Jordanian University was founded in 1962. In 1964, the Ministry of Culture, Information, Tourism and Archaeology was established and given the task of taking care of different cultural and information issues, in addition to the establishment of the University Theatre that suffered from a lack of artists.

A five-year economic and social development plan was adopted (1963-1967) and extended to a seven-year plan (1964-1970). The annual income growth rate was at 9%, while the population growth rate was at 3%, while the number of students grew by 8.2%. In January 1965, a meeting was held in the Jordanian Broadcasting Department building where participants appealed for arts in the country. As a result, the Arts and Culture Department was founded from the Ministry of Information in 1966, and remained until 1976.

Film production companies had requested permission to acquire a private television channel license for 99 years. It was then the government decided to create a Jordanian television channel whose building was opened in Amman in 1966 in a spectacular party attended by King Hussein. Unfortunately, the second building in Jerusalem was not completed due to the Naksa War in 1967.

The government increased military spending after Naksa which decelerated economic development and cancelled a lot of projects that had been agreed on in the development plan.  Despite that, the first cultural production, publishing and distribution system emerged in 1969 and the publishing of cultural books started. In 1966, the first cultural magazine (Afkar) was issued and the Musical Institute and the Folklore Arts Band were established. The first government theatre band was founded, the Jordanian Theatre Family from 1965–1977. In 1967, the Jordanian Library Society appeared. In subsequent years there were more cultural innovations including the first cultural palace in Hussein’s childhood city (1968), the Folklore Heritage Revival Club (1970), the Royal Cultural Centre (1973), the Jordanian Writers’ Association (1974), the National Library (1975), and “Sawt Al-Jeel” and “Al-Funon Al-Sha’bia” magazines (1974). In the mid-seventies, the economy started to recover and the development plan was set in motion. The cultural expressions, policies and plans were mainly in a national content. The Ministry of Culture and Arts took care of general heritage in many ways like holding exhibitions of handicrafts, and broadcasting folklore music and songs through radio and television. During that time, lots of cultural cooperation agreements had been signed between Jordan and Arab countries along with some foreign countries. The Culture and Arts Department had remained part of the Ministry of Information until a new ministry known as the Ministry of Culture and Youth was born in 1976 and remained until 1984. 

The objectives of the Five-Year Plan (1976 – 1980) assured the role of woman in production and social development and encouraged television production which helped spread Jordanian dramas.

In 1976, the first conference for Arab cultural ministers was held in Amman. In this conference, the “Amman statement” of culture was issued, which became a comprehensive constitution for the Arab cultural movement.

In 1977, the Minister of Culture and Youth held the first work meeting with Jordanian writers. He also held another meeting related to the first, with Jordanian plastic artists which resulted in the establishment of the “the Jordanian Plastic Artists’ Association”. In the same year, the first system for state prizes for literature and arts was issued and the Jordanian Theatre Association was founded. In 1980, the Jordanian Musicians’ Association was founded and the Royal compound for Islamic civilisation research, the Aal Al-Beit Institution, appeared as a new cultural monument. This period witnessed an expansion in the building of cultural ties and in the signing of agreements with a variety of Arab and foreign countries. In 1977, the cultural production system was issued, replacing the one of 1969. The first theatrical forum was held in 1978.

The Royal Association of Fine Arts was founded in the form of a non-profit cultural commission in 1979, which, in return, established the Jordanian National Museum for fine arts in 1980. In 1987, an arts magazine was issued.  

The Ministry of Culture transformed into its current state in 1988 by establishing the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Democratic life returned to the country after an absence of over twenty years. Political-party life and political freedoms also returned with the activation of the parliament the creation of cultural directorates in all governorates by the Ministry, the increase of cultural commissions by more than double. As a result, Jordan witnessed an active cultural movement. In 1990, the royal drafting committee for a national charter was founded by royal command. The committee consisted of sixty members with different backgrounds and interests who worked on drafting the charter which was submitted to the King and discussed through the media. It was signed by 2,000 members who participated in the national conference of the Jordanian National Charter in 1991.

The charter was set to reinforce general work laws and determine its manner of implementation. It was also set to put guidelines for political multiplicity as another pillar for the democratic base, based on constitutional principles, political and national heritage, and the current social context in a way that guaranteed the continuation of the nationalistic development and democratic transformation taking place in the country. 

The charter dealt with social issues concentrating on family, human rights, personal freedom, equal opportunities and equality in a way compatible with the Constitution. 

Since the change in the demographic structure due to the compulsory migration of Palestinians to Jordan in 1948, cities expaned, education developed, schools increased in number and there was income growth, the need for a cultural act emerged. The cultural magazines "New Horizon" and "Generation Voice" were issued by As-salt secondary school. Until the 1967 Deterioration, the five-year plan for economic and social development had been adopted (1963-1967) and then extended to a seven-year plan (1964-1970). Income grew by 9% annually, the population by 3% and the number of students by 8.2%. At the same time, the Culture and Art Department was established in the Information Ministry in addition to the Jordan Library Association. The cultural movement began to became active through artistic fairs and plays.

However, the government increased military spending after the 1967 Deterioration which stopped economic growth and many projects approved by the development plan were cancelled. The Jordan University patronised cultural activities at that time and book publication increased considerably. In the mid-1970s, the economy started to recover and development plans were resumed. In cultural terms, cultural plans and policies had nationalist content. "Public Arts" magazine was issued in 1974. The Culture and Arts Department gave attention to public heritage in many ways such as handicraft fairs, and in broadcasting folk songs and music through radio and TV. At that time, many cultural cooperation agreements were signed between Jordan and Arab countries along with some foreign countries.

The objectives of the five-year plan (1976-1980) stressed activating the role of women in production and in societal development, and encouraging national TV production which helped in the distribution of Jordanian drama. The Fine Art College was established at Jordan University in addition to the establishment of the Jordan National Museum.

The most important turning point in the late 1980s to early 1990s was the shift to democracy with the resumption of parliament work and parliamentary elections after the difficult political, social and economic events that took place in Jordan. Therefore, the King formed the Royal Committee to develop the National Charter on 9 April, 1990.

This charter was developed to enhance the rules of public work, define its methodology, and set guidelines for political plurality as another pillar for democracy based on constitutional principles, political and national heritage, and the present social context, ensuring the continuity of national development and democratic transition in the country.The charter addressed social issues by focusing on family, human rights, individual freedom, equal opportunity and equality in line with the Constitution.

In the cultural sector, the charter recognised national culture as a part of Islamic Arab culture, ideologically, artistically and in creativity, in order to achieve social progress and development. A number of guidelines were developed to form the very foundation of all cultural and development plans.

These guidelines included a commitment towards  Arabic, maintaining and developing it, encouraging translation from and into Arabic, urging academic and scientific institutions to contribute in the Arabisation efforts, encouraging publishing in Arabic in various scientific, literary and artistic fields, protecting the national cultural heritage and familiarising it with scientific methods, and spreading and popularising it within the available capabilities and in cooperation with relevant Arab, Islamic and international cultural institutions. The charter has stressed promotion of Arab Islamic history, and keeping Jordan’s national history, documenting it, maintaining its antiquities, familiarising its events, and studying and teaching it. The charter called for making efforts to promote the education of citizens all over the Kingdom, improving their national culture and developing it through various available means to ensure their participation in comprehensive cultural development. It focused on the different means of promoting indigenous and national culture and popularising it through libraries, information centres, theatres, exhibitions and museums. It also highlighted the cultural and civilizational achievements of Arab Jordanians. Meanwhile, it stressed the need to take special care of various styles of Jordanian public heritage as creativity branches which enrich the national culture, develop it side by side with modernity trends and enhance the solidity of the national cultural structure. It also stressed the rights of Jordanian literati, intellectuals, men of letters, artists and poets to be open to various cultures. This would enrich Jordanian national culture and preserve its spirit in a way that complements Arab and Islamic values. It also stressed respecting copyright and updating legislation which ensures the rights of various authors and inventors.

In the 1990s there was prosperity in all cultural fields as a result of the freedom provided to intellectuals in various fields.

The number of cultural festivals and clubs boomed, and Jordan theatre witnessed a revival after a period of low demand for Jordanian drama after the government attitude towards the Gulf War. This caused artists to turn to theatre. There were many troupes and they performed many plays supported by the Ministry of Culture which organised cultural festivals in general and theatrical festivals in particular. The MoC organised the Jordan Theatre Festival, and Youth Theatre Festival in cooperation with the Artists Association, and Children's Theatre Festival. It also organised a festival, with the same name, in cooperation with universities and colleges, alongside Jarash Festival for Culture and Arts which has been celebrated every year since 1980 until today. Comic-political theatre also thrived after the official openness, and it attracted a wide ranging audience.

However, this prosperity didn't last long; the cultural field suffered regression along with all fields starting with the economic and political fields, and later on the social field in the beginning of the third millennium. There was an obvious confusion in government attitudes towards culture in general to the degree that they considered terminating the MoC and creating any suitable alternative (a higher council) to handle cultural affairs. The Ministry, therefore, was suspended on 25 November, 2003, for one year and stayed without a minister, a higher council or any departmental form which could fill the gap resulting from this suspension.

This gap raised many questions about the government agenda regarding culture and intellectuals. However the Prime Minister, Faisal Al-Fayez, made visits to cultural institutions and bodies, and held meetings and discussions with their members. This was in addition to the extended discussions held by the Alrai Center for Studies in the presence of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Political Development and the Cabinet Spokesman, some educated participants, and representatives of cultural institutions and bodies. These visits and discussions assured the intellectuals of the future of cultural activities in Jordan. This led to a set of opinions, suggestions and reactions which gave the intellectuals an opportunity for further discussions, and a committee to prepare a draft of the "National Cultural Project" in addition to creating a committee to organise the National Cultural Conference to discuss the future of culture and art.1

The MoC resumed activity, and in 2007, King Abdullah II ordered a meeting with the intellectuals and this famous meeting changed many conditions which had hindered cultural work. These will be discussed later in this document.

The development plan for culture (2006-2008) was developed in light of the recommendations of the National Culture Conference held in June 2004, and the National Agenda for 2005-2010 about education, higher education and creativity.

The final draft of this plan was developed after meetings with cultural bodies and 25 cultural figures. These meetings were held under the direction of King Abdullah II, mentioned in the government's high commandment letter in 2007 which stressed the necessity of interacting with society, and expanding the discussion and decision-making base to involve people in making the decisions related to their everyday life.[1]

According to this plan, the government increased the cultural budget, and established the Culture Support Fund (whose resources have not been determined yet). The government also made efforts to provide the required conditions for setting up a national creative culture, and tried to implement some programs and interventions in this regard like creating the Jordan City of Culture and allocating one million dinar annually for each city holding the title in an attempt to distribute cultural achievements all over provinces, not only in Amman. One of those achievements included a mobile library for children, a family library project in which the Ministry of Culture took responsibility for printing costs, distribution and payment of intellectual property rights. The project’s publications for 2013 included 268 thousand copies in 48 titles (50 books), 5,000 copies of each book for adults, 7,000 copies of each book for children. The cultural commissions support budget increased from 130 thousand to 600 thousand dinars ($183 thousand to $845 thousand), while the book support and publishing budget increased by 300% compared to 2006.

Some of these achievements are the Mobile Child Library and Jordan Family Library Project through which cheaper versions of books were produced annually to encourage Jordanian families to establish their own libraries. The budget of supporting cultural bodies was raised from 130,000 to 600,000 dinar (183.228 USD to 845.666 USD) and the budget for publication and supporting books was raised by 300% compared with the 2006 budget. 

[1]The introduction by Minister of Culture, Adel Twaisi who finalised this development plan, MoC, 2006.

Chapter published: 04-05-2016