Cultural policy profiles: Syria

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Cultural policy profiles: Syria
by Reem Al Khatib and Rana Yazaji
In: Cultural Policies in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, lebanon, Marocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunesia. An introduction, Cultural resource/European Cultural Foundation, Bookmanstudies, 2010, 174-201

A socio-historical outline1
Geography and population basics
The Syrian Arab Republic lies in the Middle East, bordering Turkey in the North, Iraq in the East, Jordan1 and Israel in the South,2 Lebanon3 and the Mediterranean Sea in the West. Damascus is the capital and other large cities include Aleppo, Daara, Deir El Zor, Hama, Al Hasaka,Homs (or Hims), Idlib, Latakia, Quneitra, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda and Tartus. The size of Syria is about 185,18o km2 with an estimated population of 22.2 million (2010). Of the population 90.3% are Arab and 9.7% Armenians, Circassians and other ethnic groups. The vast majority, 74%, is Sunni Muslim, 16% other Muslim (including Ismailis, Shiites, Alawites and Druze), 10% Christian (various denominations, primarily Greek and Armenian Orthodox). In addition there are small Jewish communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli and Aleppo. Syria also has refugees, for example, from Palestine.
The official language is Arabic, spoken by 89% of the population, but Kurdish (6%), Armenian (3%), Aramaic and Circassian are also spoken (2%). French and English arc used in business circles.
The oldest settlements in Syria — of the Kebarians — date back to circa 18,000-12,0 0 0 BC. Syria was at the crossroads of the Near East between Mesopotamia in the East, Anatolia in the North and Egypt in the South. The trade routes also served as invasion routes and successive waves of invaders included the Akkadians from Mesopotamia (circa 240 BO, the Hurrians (circa 2400 BC) and Amorites (circa 2150 BC), a Semitic desert people who established kingdoms and merged with the older population to form the people known as the Canaanites (Phoenicians).45 Byblos, North of modern Beirut, Lebanon, became a major port. Other invaders were the Assyrians, Hittites, and Aramaeans. Around the 14th century BC the coastal strip west of the Lebanon Mountains came to be known as Phoenicia, which for some 1,000 years had an identity separate from Syria. Hittite power was destroyed in the late 13th century by sea raiders, who in Southern Canaan became known as Philistines. The Aramaeans had become dominant by 1,000 BC. Although they ruled for less than 200 years, their language and alphabet spread over the entire region. Among later invaders were the Romans, Babylonians (Chaldeans) under Nebuchadnezzar, followed in 539 by the Persians, who extended their rule to the Mediterranean, Alexander the Great, and the Arabs in the 7th century AD. In 1516, Syria became a part of the Ottoman Empire, which it remained until 1918 when the Ottoman Empire dissolved, and Syria declared its independence under the leadership of King Faisal 1.

However, following World War I, Syria was placed under the mandate of France, under the authorization of the League of Nations; in 1946 the country gained its independence. The year 1949 marked the beginning of a series of military coups. In 1958 Syria united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic; in 1961 the separation was announced and the Syrian Arab Republic re-established. The declaration in 1948 of the State of Israel on Palestinian land6 caused several conflicts. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. From 1971 Hafiz al-Assad was President and he was succeeded by his son Bashar al-Assad in 2000.

Ministry of Culture

General Directorates & Departments

Opera House

General Institution for Cinema

General Directorate for Theatres to Music

General Directorate for

Cultural Relations

General Directorate for Culture

General Directorate for Archaeology and Museums

General Directorate for Fine arts

Syrian Books Organization

Figure 1: Organization of the Ministry of Culture

Organization of public administration
Ministry of Culture

The Ministry of Culture (MOC) is responsible for international cultural relations, copyright,

cultural heritage, museums, book publications and literacy programmes, festivals, visual arts,

film, performing arts, academic education in the arts.

The State Planning Commission (SPC) is responsible for issuing the documents which define the development and implementation of all policy plans, general and sectoral, of the different ministries, including the Ministry of Culture. The SPC is affiliated with the Council of Ministers and supports the Higher Council for Planning.7
Interministerial or intergovernmental and intersectoral cooperation
Certain aspects of cultural policy are dealt with by other ministries:

  • the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour is responsible for the work on Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) and the approval of their cultural activities;

  • the Ministry of Tourism supervises the Higher Council for Tourism, which is responsible for issuing investment laws for archaeological sites, and the Tourist Promotion Directorate, which organizes art exhibitions, issues laws on the acquisition of antiquities, promotes Syrian art and archaeological heritage through local festivals, and delegates popular arts groups and craftsmen for participation in international fairs and events;

  • the Arabic Language Academy;

  • the Ministry of Information supervises the General-Directorate of Radio and Television;

  • the Ministry of Economy supervises the Chamber of Cinema Industry and the Fairs Ground;

  • the Ministry of Defence runs the Military Theatre;

  • the Ministry of Education administers school theatres, and curricular and extracurricular artistic activities;

  • the Ministry of Higher Education supervises the Higher Council for Culture and Arts;

  • the Ministry of Local Administration8 organizes the work of governorates and municipalities.

Each ministry has a statistics and planning directorate, which reports to the minister in question, but the SPC are involved in defining policies.9 Each ministry submit its plan for approval by the SPC:, together with the investment (planning) budget and the running budget. 'the annual plans must be approved by the Council of Ministers; the budget is confirmed after it has been ratified by Parliament.
The cooperation between ministries or governmental bodies in the cultural field is limited to signing short-term memoranda for the implementation of projects or activities. To implement such interministerial agreements, a joint committee is formed under the supervision of the legal departments of the ministries in question, and after the official signature of this partnership, another joint committee is assigned to coordinate the project. As a result of this poor consultation, proposed interministerial projects overlap and there is mutual interference in projects adopted by different ministries. For example, both the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism are responsible for the coordination of the relations between the cultural and tourist sectors.
Cooperation between government tiers
The Ministry of Local Administration supervises the work of governorates and municipal councils. Each governorate has 2 administrative bodies: an executive office for cultural affairs, celebrations and festivals, which is a department within the municipalities, and a Directorate of Culture, which represents the Ministry of Culture. Cultural centres therefore have to deal with a double governance. On an administrative and financial level they are affiliated to the Ministry of Local Administration/ governorates (municipalities) and on a programming level to the Ministry of Culture.

The Directorates of Culture are located in all 14 Syrian governorates. The ministerial rules and the rules of their administrative representatives overlap which makes it difficult for the centres to operate efficiently.

Urban/regional dynamics
Under a joint initiative launched by the EU and the Syrian government, work began in 200S on preparing the first experimental stage of the MAM (Municipal Administration Modernization) project in 6 cities. The MAM Project aims to decentralize decision-making, giving local authorities greater control over their affairs, and introducing administrative and financial changes.
Local communities are slowly becoming partners in the development of programmes and research, although communication channels between the cultural sector and local communities are still in their infancy. In recent years, the Ministry of Culture has extended the geographical range of its activities to the Northern region of Syria. Until then cultural activities were concentrated in the capital and a few large cities.
Public and private funding of culture
Public funding
In 2005, the Syrian government decided to initiate a shift from a planned to a market economy, in addition to liberalization towards the global market, and attracting international capital. The period of the loth Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), is a transitional period.
Despite the increase in funds in comparison to previous years, the MOC has exceeded its planned budgets because it expanded its activities in all the governorates of the country. An amount of too million pounds has been added to the MOC budget in 2008 to cover the Ministry's activities for Damascus, Capital of Arab Culture that year.10 An additional allocation of 50 million pounds was added in 2009 to the MOC's budget for activities to celebrate Al-Quds, Capital of Arab Culture 2009. While the overall budget of the Ministry of Culture reached 2135 million pounds in 2009, the budget of the Ministry of Local Administration was approximately 94 billion pounds. The expenditure on the cultural centres and Directorates of Culture in 2009 reached 813,140 thousand pounds. The state is still the major funder and caretaker of culture.
The financial grants that Syria receives are for capacity building by transferring knowledge. The European Union is the most important partner of Syria with regard to culture. The value of the projects for 2007-2010 is approximately 130 million Euros. There are 2 major fields of cooperation: economic and institutional reform and social and human development which includes the cultural domain. In this area, the Syrian Government benefits from the funds of the 4th Programme of the European-Mediterranean Heritage which has been allocated 13.67 million Euros. There are also small cultural projects amounting to 17,000 Euros and a youth project worth 200,000 Euros. The European Commission allocates a budget of 200,000 Euros to support and fund cultural projects in Syria.

The Euro-Mediterranean Youth Programme makes available an annual grant of 16-40 thousand Euros. The JICA-Japanese Institution provides technical help, such as instruments and equipment for theatre venues and the halls of cultural centres, depending on the needs of such institutions. JICA also organizes comparable help for the Syrian cultural sector from Japanese organizations, for example, technical assistance and brass and wind instruments for the Dar Al-Assad (the Opera).The support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation amounts to approximately 190,000 Swiss Francs. The Swiss pledged to finance projects to renovate paths for tourists in the historical cities in the Samaan Citadel Zone, in the Aleppo governorate. This project is the result of a bilateral cultural agreement on the maintenance of Syrian architectural heritage.

Private funding
Cultural sponsorship is relatively new; "social responsibility" is a fresh and fragile concept. Most of the support for culture from the Syrian private sector is limited to advertising and promotion without direct funding, owing to the discounts on cultural advertising given by the Arab Advertising Organization. The Al-Marhabah Festival in Latakia city was sponsored in this way. SYRIATEL partly sponsored the Jableh Cultural Festival organized by the Adiyat Jableh Society. Thus the financial contribution of the private commercial sector to the cultural

field is still restricted to incidental initiatives, depending on the standing of the project owner and his or her personal relations, and whether the project or cultural event is sponsored by official figures with a high-profile. The most important sponsors so far are the international oil companies working in Syria — Shell Oil Company (1 million dollars a year, for health care, education and culture), Total SA and Petro Canada — or food companies like Nestle Middle East, which supports the restoration of ancient monuments in Syria such as the Citadel of Damascus.

National and international cultural policies and cross-sectoral policy themes
Short historical outline of national cultural policy
The Ministry of Culture of the Syrian Arab Republic was established in 1958 when Syria and Egypt were united. Since then, public cultural policies have not changed greatly in approach because the legal and administrative regulations on cultural activities have not been altered. Nevertheless, there is a slow transformation at governmental level regarding the changed priorities and openness to the world. The more or less independent local sectors and international organizations are important instruments in pushing forward these changes.
The relatively new Decision Support Directorate, which is not part of the MOC and reports directly to the Prime Minister, conducted a study which assessed the progress achieved in realizing the strategies of the Five-Year Plan (2006-2010). This plan included new strategies, based on a new vision, to raise the level of culture by encouraging and supporting the cultural NGOs and involving the private sector. The report called for a number of reforms at the level of policies, laws and decrees, which gave cultural institutions more freedom of action , freedom in decision making, and freedom regarding new projects and institutions using relatively new methods and mechanisms. This movement is counterbalanced, however, by the unweakened power of the Minister of Culture and the MOC's resistance to relinquishing control over cultural activities. Sections and subsections have been set up to oversee the activities of independent performing artists (hands, and musical and theatrical companies), based on the notion that the Ministry of Culture should supervise and "support" all cultural initiatives and activities. Institutions in the independent civil society sector aim to involve the Ministry of Culture as a partner in their activities, so that they benefit from all the associated facilities. In contrast to the static government sector with its heavy structure, there is a mobile civil sector, with flexible structures, based on modern concepts in cultural management, resulting in the emergence of new cultural professions such as cultural manager, marketer, promoter, etc.
National cultural policy objectives
Official culture in Syria is oriented towards Pan-Arabism and considered to be a tool for developing Pan-Arab awareness. 'The idea that there is one culture and that Syrian cultural products are gratuite (free) is central to this. The following objectives are pursued:

  • popularize knowledge and culture, present Arab culture and disseminate its message;

  • develop Pan-Arab awareness and help citizens to improve their social standing, boost their morale and strengthen their sense of responsibility, and motivate them to cooperate, make sacrifices and intensify efforts to serve their country and humanity;

  • facilitate the means of popular culture;

  • contact foreign cultural institutions and benefit from their activities;

  • implement bilateral cultural agreements;

  • hold conferences, organize festivals and competitions, offer prizes and encourage the establishment of cultural societies;

  • revive the traditional Arab heritage in the fields of science, literature and research;

  • discover the archaeological and historical heritage;

  • establish archaeological, historical and traditional museums;

  • encourage literature and the arts.

Main cultural policy issues and priorities
The current 10th FYP (2006-2010) has 3 general objectives:

  • watch over and promote Syrian cultural heritage — tangible and intangible, as well as traditional arts — as one of the key sectors in cultural policy;

  • develop the Syrian cultural product and create the necessary environment for a cultural movement to develop, taking into consideration that culture and knowledge are investment sectors;

  • adopt the "culture for everyone" approach, spread the culture of dialogue, introduce the Arab culture to the world and disseminate its message.

Cultural policy model
The dominant model in Syria is the socialist model: the state plays a fundamental role in patronizing culture through a network of institutions which cover all aspects of cultural life. Senior officials directly supervise cultural activities, often taking initiatives themselves to create work opportunities. Although the state is the main player in the public sector, it is no longer the only player. Civil society and the private sector have emerged, bringing about new forms of production. This is resulting in a parallel approach which could be called the patronage model. Legislation, regulations and work procedures are slowly changing, resulting in a change in the role of governmental cultural organizations.

International cultural policy and cooperation
The Directorate of Cultural Relations of the Ministry of Culture supervises the composition and guidance of artistic delegations and cultural scholarships abroad. It initiates Cultural Weeks, programmes, film screenings, exhibitions and theatre perfor­mances at home' for invited foreign artists and intellectuals. In addition the Directorate coordinates contacts with international organizations, such as the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN),11 the European Union,12 the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO),13 UNESCO, UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). There is no clear policy regarding cultural cooperation with other Arab countries, but Syria is a founding member of the Arab League, officially the League of Arab States (1945),14 and cooperates in the Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO).15
The Directorate of Cultural Relations oversees the Syrian cultural centres abroad (Brazil, France, Spain and Yemen). These centres are associated with Syrian embassies which are supervised by the Cultural Management Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The cultural centres are responsible for disseminating Syrian culture, consolidating cultural cooperation and introducing Arab culture by organizing seminars, lectures, Arab language courses, exhibitions and film screenings.
The work of the foreign cultural centres and organizations in Syria can be divided into 2 types: activities designed according to the programmes, goals and policies of these centres, approved by the Directorate of Cultural Relations of the Ministry of Culture based on its regulations, and activities, and activities resulting from bilateral cultural agreements. Some of the centres design their programmes on the basis of the cultural policy agenda of their home country, such as the German cultural centre (Damascus). Others adopt policies parallel to the Syrian cultural policy, such as the Spanish cultural centre, introducing programmes that are less directly related to the home country and closer to the Syrian public and artists. Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and United States of America have cultural centres in Syria. Part of the work of the Directorate of Cultural Relations is to draft the regulations on the organization of these centres' activities. Most of them offer language courses and cultural activities related to the home culture. In addition, some do archaeological research (France and Italy) or adopt a policy of cultural dialogue, exchanging ideas, and capacity building in the field of cultural management (e.g. the United Kingdom).
A Presidential Decree is issued for each bilateral cultural agreement, for example, Decree No 281 (2004) on the cultural agreement with Qatar. Cultural agreements are also endorsed by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Culture. A treaty between Syria and Italy was signed (2007) on the development of the National Museum (Damascus), the Aleppo Museum, the rehabilitation of the Idleb Museum and the establishment of a database of the museum objects.16
Some agreements are signed directly with foreign cultural organizations, such as the cooperation agreement between the Ministry's General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums and Musée du Louvre, France (2008), encouraging professional excavations.17 The agreement is valid for 5 years and renewable by collateral agreement. Another example is the Nahnou -Together Project (2005-2007), launched by the British Council in Syria, in cooperation with Tate Britain (United Kingdom) and the Adham Ismael Centre for Plastic Arts of the Ministry of Culture (1959, Damascus).

This presents young people from both countries in a visual dialogue. The project entered its second stage in 2008 and involves artists, teachers and arts educators. New is the contribution of the National Gallery of Fine Arts (1980, Amman, Jordan).18 The Ministry of Culture is responsible for the implementation of all cultural agreements, under the supervision of the Cultural Management Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some agreements involve several ministries, such as the Ministries of Education, of Higher Education and of Culture in the case of the bilateral agreement with Mexico on a cultural and educational programme 2007-2010.

International cultural relations tend to be incidental and occasional, and restricted to the presentation of the 'official' culture of Syria and the partner country. They are not based on local needs, or cultural research and exchange, and lack a strategic vision.
Employment policies and social security
Artists working in the public sector are subject to the general Unified Labour Law. Their wages do not differ from wages in any other field (125 dollars per month on average). But artists are granted compensations in the form of rewards. Artists registered with the Plastic Arts Syndicate have access to a pension and an insurance frond. Freelance artists do not enjoy social-security rights.
Copyright and other legal provisions in the cultural field
The Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic was issued in 1973. The legislative authority is Parliament; the executive authority comprises the President, Cabinet, local councils and local administration. The Ministry of Culture, in particular the Copyright Office, is responsible for proposing amendments on copyright legislation regarding Syrian cultural life. The Copyright Office presents the amendments to Parliament, where they are discussed and examined, and the appropriate measures to be taken are decided. Several laws protect the copyright of authors (literary writers and artists): Decree No 2385 (1924), articles 708 and 709 of the Syrian Penal Code and the Law on the Intellectual Property in Syria (2008). Authors' rights are protected for 50 years after their death; for performing artists this is 50 years from the date of the first public performance.
The Ministry of Culture also plays a role in terms of approving the establishment of cultural associations, even though they are the administrative responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. Granting a license for establishing a cultural society requires a number of approvals, including that of the Minister of Culture.
Cultural industries
The most prominent cultural industries are commercial TV productions,19 animation productions (there are 2 companies, but they merely deliver services for TV stations, often Gulf stations), and advertising. The Arab market, more precisely the Gulf market, is the main market for TV series and animations. Supporting the private production of cinema and offering facilities to private banks to be partners in the film industry are goals of the 10th Five-Year Plan.

Cultural diversity (minorities, groups and communities)
The access of minorities to cultural activities is not an issue in cultural policy. This merely reflects the absence of a relationship with the Syrian public. The Armenians for instance have their own organizations which teach their language and organize activities. Other minorities also practise their customs and rituals and celebrate their festivals. In some cases they obtain limited support from the Ministry of Culture, such as free venues to put on performances of a traditional nature. There are initiatives seeking to underline the social cohesion between the minorities, such as the Busra Festival. Many rural regions have no access to cultural activities and products.
Women constitute 20% of the total Syrian workforce. The MOC Central Administration has 4 female directors and 5 female Directorate Heads. The percentage of female directors at Al-Assad National Library is 70. Dar Al-Assad for Culture and Arts (the Opera House) has a total of 254 personnel of which 26% is female, including all 7 directors.

Number of Employees




Percentage of women






Department heads










Table 1: Women working as the Ministry of Culture and affiliated bodies and directorates-2008

Number of Employees




Percentage of women

Directors, Central Administration





Clerical jobs





Service jobs









Specialists (Scientific,

artistic and HR










Table 2: Warner at the General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums
The post of Vice-President for Cultural Affairs is held by a woman, previously the Minister of Culture. In 2006, a decree was issued to appoint the female writer Colliette Khouri as the first Advisor to the President of the Republic on cultural affairs.
Culture and ICT
The Ministry of Culture seeks to establish cultural centres in all urban and rural areas in every governorate and provide these centres with computers to disseminate IT culture. Young artists specializing in new technologies work on the basis of an international visual language, which is linked to contemporary international arts. Alternative, non-governmental initiatives, such as All Arts Now, are active in all the contemporary arts, with the aim of supporting young artists.20
The cultural field in general
Popular organizations
Popular organizations are approved by state institutions and can be classified as follows:

  • professional organizations such as the Arab Writers Union, the Artists Union, the Journalists Union and the Plastic Arts Syndicate, all supervised by a state organization but without interfering in their work. These unions practise cultural activities on both a national and international level, with the support of the Ministries of Culture and of Information and state organizations. Members enjoy some financial advantages (pension), but there is an ongoing heated debate about the type of support provided to members;

  • organizations affiliated to the Ba'ath Party, such as the Vanguards Organization, the Revolutionary Youth Union and the Union of Syrian Students, which conduct local cultural activities and participate in international festivals, fairs and competitions through their cultural offices;

  • cultural offices of other occupational unions such as the General Union of Syrian Women, the Union of Syrian Farmers and the Workers Union. They organize local and international cultural activities and receive support from the relevant ministries.

The independent sector
Independent artists and organizations, NGOs, and civil society organizations are buzz words in Syria, although there are only a few firmly established civil associations, such as Art Friends, the Damascus Friends Association and the Aleppo al-Adiat Society. Recently founded associations include the Rainbow Association, the SHAMS Association and the non-profit NGO SADA, Musical and Cultural Association. Most NGOs share the same basic objectives:

  • the promotion of Syrian arts and artists, for example, the goal of the Ayyam Gallery (Damascus);

  • support for young people, an issue for all policy-makers in all sectors;

  • capacity building, important for NGOs as well as governmental cultural organizations;

  • an interactive approach to creative action — moving theatres from conventional spaces to more lively places.

NGOs in Syria face challenges that make strategic action difficult and they lack the authority to make independent decisions. Direct foreign or international funding is very difficult, as the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour deals with all the financial affairs.21

One of the key players is the non-profit NGO Syria Trust for Development (STD, 2007).22 STD is officially registered at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour and aims to take over development projects in 3 domains: education, rural development and culture. The Trust works independently and in association with the government, and international organizations and partners, such as the Qatar Foundation,23 the Association ECUM — Échanges Culturels en Méditerranée (1983, France), the European Union, the SDC — Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Population Council of Egypt. The Trust also has partnerships with the private sector; it receives financial assistance from Syrian commercial groups such as SYRIATEL and MTN, providers of mobile services.

Cultural heritage
Cultural heritage is one of the main topics of cultural policy. Most of the heritage projects are carried out in cooperation with European or international organizations.
Archaeology and built heritage
The Ministry of Culture launched the Intangible Heritage Documentation Project in cooperation with the Directorates of Culture. This is a key initiative in which these departments work together with independent writers and intellectuals, researchers, interested individuals and civil associations on the preservation of local heritage. They form committees to collect and document various aspects of intangible heritage in all the governorates.
Programmes of the international Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)24 span 6 governates (Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Lattakia, Sweida and Tartus) serving both rural and urban populations. Priority areas include protecting cultural heritage, developing sustainable tourism and strengthening civil society organizations. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) assists in the restoration of the Citadels of Salah ad-Din, Masyaf, and Aleppo. Syria is also involved in the registration of cities and villages in the North of the country on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. The Damascus Friends Association, a civil society organization, seeks to preserve the Damascene heritage.
The bilateral cultural agreement between Syria and Italy (2007)25 aims, for example, to develop a high-tech lab in the National Museum (Damascus), provide training to use the latest technologies, and establish an exhibition room for Syrian mosaics26 for restoration purposes. Other projects include the restoration of the Castle of Damascus (11th-12th century AD), and the establishment of a database for Syrian heritage in the National Museum. For this purpose the General Directorate for Ruins and Museums was created. The agreement with the Musée du Louvre in Paris (2008)27 encourages the development of archaeological sites with professional staff, especially the Marry site. There are staff exchanges to study and restore artworks in Syrian museums, and Syrian trainees and students qualify in the field of restoration. The treaty also provides for the refurbishment of the exhibition rooms of the Eastern Antiques Department in the National Museum, and for the introduction and exhibition of Syrian antiquities in the Louvre.

Books and literature, reading promotion, libraries and archives
Books and literature
A legislative decree (2001) regulates the freedom of the press and libraries. To establish a printing office or a library, a request must be submitted to the Ministry of Information. The owner of the printing house needs to comply with any official request to provide information about published titles and dates of publication. A copy of every publication must he sent to the authorities on the day it is published. A national campaign to promote the book trade was launched by the Fund for Integrated Rural Development of Syria, "FIRDOS", in cooperation with the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs (SCFA).
The Children's Literature Regional Programme of Euro-Med, adopted by the Anna Lindh Foundation, was launched in coop­eration with a number of civil society organizations to develop children's literature. The programme supported 9 children's libraries affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and s reading clubs were established. The programme included a competition for the best Syrian Children's Book. Additional research was conducted about the image of children in Syrian books.
Reading promotion
Several ministries and popular organizations28 joined forces to combat illiteracy. The illiteracy rate in Syria has dropped from 19% to 14.2% of the population (aged 15 and older), according to CBS figures (2007). These figures show that illiteracy is highest among females and in rural areas. The MOC established a directorate for adult literacy and cultural development, which is the key organization, in addition to the Ministries of Education, of Social Affairs and Labour, and of Agriculture, and the State Planning Commission. Popular organizations include the General Union of Syrian Women and the Revolutionary Youth Union.
Libraries and archives
The Al-Assad Library is the national library (1984, Damascus). The library's first task is to collect all published books and newspapers, in addition to literature connected with heritage, such as manuscripts. They are conserved and stored in suitable depots.
The Directorate-General of Radio and Television of the Ministry of Information is the administrative body that governs radio and television broadcasting.29 Radio broadcasts (since 1945) arc mainly in Arabic but also in English, French, Turkish, Russian, Hebrew, and German. Almost every home receives radio broadcasts. There are 3 state-owned radio stations. The country's first private radio station, Al-Madina FM, was launched in 2005. There are 13 private commercial radio stations. The scope of these stations is restricted to entertainment programmes and music; only the government media can broadcast politics and news. The Syrian Television Service (1960) reaches a large audience throughout the country. There are 5 state-owned TV stations. Television broadcasting includes news and sports, cultural programmes, music and drama, as well as educational programmes.

Satellite dishes are becoming common, allowing Syrians access to a broad selection of Middle Eastern and European programmes. There are 4 private satellite channels. Because the Publication Act does not allow for private satellite channels, their licenses are limited to the free zones where they are temporarily allowed to broadcast.

The Ministry of Information financially supports the production of TV dramas, produced by the official state TV or the private sector, in addition to participation in international competitions, and cultural debate by producing drama shows for prominent Syrian writers and intellectuals. In 2009 the government Drama Channel was established (one of the 5 channels) to empower the drama industry. The private production of TV dramas is considered to be the only cultural industry, due to the profitable economic dimension of this sector. Apart from the visual arts, this is the only cultural domain in which the private sector plays a larger role than the public sector.
The TV Production Directorate is responsible for drawing up general policies and legislation on the work of the private sector and sub-committees for auditing programme budgets. Licenses for broadcasting stations are granted under a resolution issued by the Prime Minister, based on a proposal by the Minister of Information.
There are 8 state-owned daily newspapers and 3 newspapers published by public universities, 19 monthly newspapers by the ministries (including the cultural newspaper Shurufat), 21 by institutions and state-owned companies and 21 by syndicates and professional unions. The political parties produce newspapers as well.
The private press, such as daily newspapers, produced in the free zone in Damascus, is subject to the laws applied to foreign newspapers. Moreover, there is a large number of monthly

and bi-monthly magazines. The publishing of newspapers or periodicals requires a license that is granted under a Resolution passed by the Prime Minister, based on a proposal presented by the Minister of Culture. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) is the official, state-run news bureau.

The arts
National and international festivals
In recent years the Ministry of Culture launched the Youth Festival for Theatrical Arts and organizes Cultural Weeks for most of the Arab countries, a phenomenon which was very successful during the celebration of Damascus as Capital of Arab Culture. The Ministry of Culture invites Arab and foreign groups and performers to the country's international festivals

like the Busra Festival or the Damascus Theatre Festival. The Jazz Festival in the ancient citadel of Damascus — the world's oldest city that is still inhabited — was initiated in 2004, partly funded and organized by the Swiss embassy. Since 2008 the festival has been the responsibility of the Syrian Trust for Development (STD),30 in its capacity as a national cultural organization. Now the festival receives mixed public-private funding, a novelty.

The AllArtNowFestival is an international new media art festival (Damascus).

Visual arts, design and photography
The Syndicate of Fine Artists (early 1970s, Damascus) and the Union of Visual Artists (2004) dominate the field of visual and applied arts. The Syndicate gives galleries permission to hold exhibitions. One of the first art exhibitions in Syria was held in 1928 at the Syrian University. Afterwards the university continued to be an incubator for artists, arranging collective and individual exhibitions. The Union protects the artists' interests and implements regulations concerning health insurance, social security and a pension fund, as well as establishing specialized artistic associations.
A decision made by the General Meeting of the Syndicate of Engineers in 2008 resulted in the establishment of the Syrian Architects Association, a scientific and cultural body. The association looks after the country's architectural heritage and seeks to develop Syrian architecture and raise educational, technical and professional standards. In addition, the association seeks to employ architecture in the service of society and its environmental, urban and social texture, and also to promote the study of architecture.
Film and multimedia
After their introduction in 1908, the number of cinemas increased to about 120 in 1963. Nowadays there are less than 40, of which 25 are located in Damascus and Aleppo. The number of seats is around 15,000, with an average of less than one seat per l000 inhabitants. According to a study by the General Establishment of Cinema (founded 1963), the total revenues amount to around 41 million pounds. Several factors are responsible for the general decline. One of them was the law on Restrictions to Import31 which prohibited owners of private cinemas to import Arab and foreign films. It obliged them to screen the films imported by the General Establishment of Cinema (GEofC). The law was revoked in 2003, enabling distributors and cinema owners to import whatever films they wanted. Other factors include taxes on all imported films, on activities ranging from the import of accessories and equipment for modernizing cinemas to admission tickets, the payment of 10% of the revenues and a commission to the General Establishment of Cinema, and taxes and dues to be paid to other bodies, such as the General Establishment for Advertisement, the Ministry of Local Administration (fees for stamps and cleaning), and the Ministry of Finance (on profits). The fact that cinemas used for other purposes are expropriated is also important.
Since the founding of the GEofC many difficulties have been encountered, including the economic crisis, a lack of technical knowhow and qualified managers, a clash with the private sector about conflicting goals, varying tasks, and different working methods and administration. The State Planning Commission.32 has set up a number of projects introducing legal changes to facilitate the participation of the private sector in cinema production. These include the establishment of a national fund to support the film sector within the framework of the Chamber of Cinema and TV Industry, and the encouragement of private and other banks to invest in this field. Official film production is in most cases no more than 1 or 2 films a year. These are festival films that are not commercially marketed. On the other hand, film is not yet considered as a cultural industry.

Performing arts (music, dance and theatre)
The I.eish Troupe (1999, Damascus) aims to construct a Movement Theatre vocabulary, particular to the current Arabic context, in order to remove the traditional boundary between performers (musicians, singers, dancers and actors), artists and designers on one side, and the audience on the other. The Leish Troupe is licensed by the Union of Artists.33 The Dar AI-Assad Opera House for Arts Culture (2004) attempts to boost the cultural scene by bringing international performers to the country.
Currently, many Syrian musicians, both individually and in musical groups, are involved in reviving the Syrian musical heritage. Shedding light on the various musical cultures in Syria, especially the Assyrian, Armenian, and the Kurdish ones, is central to the Bridges project. The project enjoys the support of the MOC.
Amateur art/folk and traditional arts
Fine arts centres, affiliated to the MOC (with 15 centres in most governorates), play a key role in developing the skills of amateur artists of all ages. They require artistic skills. Students in these centres study for 2 years and are awarded official art certificates, issued by the MOC after successfully presenting a graduation project. The Al-Assad Institutes, affiliated to the Revolutionary Youth Union, play a vital role in amateur music education, particularly for children and teenagers. They stage concerts and encourage them to pursue their education further. In a number of governorates amateur theatre groups, linked to the MOC, are still active. The MOC launched an annual amateur theatre festival in 2006.
There are around 460 cultural centres — cultural houses and community cultural clubs — in Syria at governorate, city and village levels. They are established and funded by governorates

and administratively affiliated with the Directorates of Culture, but are part of the Ministry of Local Administration (city and governorate councils) and the MOC34 (which runs and supervises them). They introduce Arab and world culture, establish libraries, organize reading sessions, lectures and seminars, fairs, film screenings, concerts, music listening sessions and art courses and support culture organizations and clubs. Each centre has a lecture room, gallery, cinema, theatre, and an Internet room. There is currently a heated debate about the effectiveness of these centres and their ability to attract audiences and intellectuals.

The Syrian Orchestra for Arab Music and the Aleppo Music Band (Qadry Dalai Band) were founded by amateurs. Artisans (glass, clay, crafts etc.) are members of the General Craftsmen's Union.
Education in the arts
Art education
The Ministry of Education developed a curriculum for painting and music for primary and secondary schools. The Syria Trust for Development35 in cooperation with the Ministry initiated an important initiative: the Interactive Theatre Programme (2009), aimed at integrating culture into education. The 2-year project is funded by the Swiss foundation DROSOS and has been introduced into more than 10 government schools. The Ministry is also responsible for the Institute for Plastic and Applied Arts Education and the Institute for Music Education (in all governorates, but not in rural areas).

Extra-curricular programmes are offered by popular culture institutes which exist in most governorates and cities, and are affiliated to cultural centres/MOC. There were 95 in 2007. They offer scientific, literary and artistic courses, in addition to languages, music, Islamic calligraphy, computer technology and needlework. The fees are symbolic and after successfully completing a number of courses, students are awarded certificates of expertise issued by the MOC.

During the summer break extra-curricular programmes for children are offered by the MOC in cultural centres and children's summer clubs (language, painting and cultural competitions), and visual and applied arts centres offer training courses (painting, sculpture, Islamic calligraphy and pottery). Some of these centres sponsor talented children.
Popular organizations such as the Revolutionary Youth Union and Al-Ba'ath Vanguards give children and young people the opportunity to meet with children from all over the world.
Vocational/professional training
Higher arts institutes and colleges are divided between 2 ministries: the Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for the Faculty of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus, the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus (1960), Aleppo (2006) and As Suwayda (2006), and the Faculty of Architecture in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia and Homs. The Ministry of Culture is responsible for the Intermediate Institute for Antiquities and Museums and the Technical Institute for Applied Arts, the Higher Institute for Music, the Higher Institute for Ballet and the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts (all located in Damascus).
The inauguration of a SMOD branch (International Institute for Fashion Design) in Damascus in the late 1990s was one of the pioneering programmes in the field of arts leaching outside official institutions. This step was furthered by the introduction of a law pertaining to the organization of Syrian universities (2006), which allowed for the creation of private universities and the establishment of art departments (painting, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and architecture) in most private universities in Damascus, Aleppo, Hams and Raqqa.
Graduates from the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Higher Institutes for Music, Ballet and Dramatic Arts, following the example of their fellow graduates from universities, benefit from the grant system of the Ministry of Higher Education, namely scholarships abroad during and after their studies. Artists also benefit from the grants offered by the British Council, French Cultural Centre, Instituto Cervantes and Goethe Institut.36
Aga Khan Development Network (zoos.) "Syria: Integrated Development in Syria." Available at:
Burrows, Matthew (1986) “Mission Civillisatrice’: French Cultural Policy in the Middle East, 186o-1914.” In: Historical Journal, Vol. 29, 109 135. Cambridge University Press.
Central Bureau of Statistics, Annual Statistical Abstract, No. 61. Damascus: Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
DGAM (s.a.) "Technical cooperation agreement Syria-Italy Cultural Heritage Sector." Damascus: Ministry of Culture: Directorate General 01 Antiquities and Museums.
Haj-Saleh, Yasseen (2006) "Political Reform and the Reconfiguration of National Identity in Syria." In: Arab Reform Brief, 14, June. Arab Reform Initiative. Available at :
Jabarti, Somayya and Abdul Maqsood Mirza (2006) "Syria's First Female Vice President Hailed as Progress for Women." In: Arab News, March 24. Available at:
Kabawat, Hind (2007) "Cultural Exchange: A Tool for better Syrian- US Relations." In: FW, June.
Kienle, Eberhard (1995) “Arab Unity Schemes Revisited: Interest, Identity, and Policy in Syria and Egypt." In: International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol.27, 53- 71. Cambridge University Press
Shoup, John (s.a.) "Nomads in Jordan and Syria.” In: Cultural Survival, available at:
Sioufi, Kahtan (2008) Financial Policy in Syria. Damascus: Ministry of Culture, the Syrian General Organization of Book.

1 For more information, see the cultural policy profile of Jordan, by Nawal Ali and Samala Hijawi.

2 According to the official map of the Syrian Arab Republic, Syria is bordered in the South by Palestine, not Israel.

3 For more information, see the cultural policy profile of Lebanon, by Watfa Hamadi and Rita Azar.

4 For more information, see the cultural policy profile of Egypt, by Menha LI Batraoui and Nermeen Khafagui.

5 See the chapter "History" in the cultural policy profile of Lebanon, by Walla Harnadi and Rita Azar.

6 For more lnformation, see the ciltural policy profile of Palestine, by Fatin Farhat.

7 The main legislation on the organization of the sec is Decree No 86 (1968) and its amendments by virtue of Decree N' 5 (2004).

8 See also the subsection "Cooperation between government tiers". The Ministry was established on the basis of the Local Adrninistration Law (1970.

9 See the subsection "Ministry of Culture".

10 A szecial committee for Damascus Capital of Arab Culture was formed and reported directly to the Prime Minister, The committee organized the capital of culture independently from the MOC, with a very large separate budget.

11 AKDN is a group of development agencies with mandates that include a variety of programmes, from architect ure to the revitalization of historic cities, from environment to education and the promotion of private-sector enterprises. See also the subsection "Archaeology and built heritage".

12 See also the subsection "Public funding".

13 IsEsco (i979, Rabat, Morocco) aims to strengthen, promote and consolidate cooperation between its member states and works within the framework of Islamic values and deals.

mi The Arab league is a regional ion of Arab states in North and Northeast Africa and Southwest Asia. It was formed in Cairo in March 1945 with 6 members: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Trans:ordan (later renamed _Jordan). Yemen joined in May 1945. The purpose of the League is to =oster Arab cooperation and unity.

15 The primary aim of ALESCO (1976, Thais, Tunisia) is the coordination and promotion of various educational, cultural and scientific activities in the Arab region.

16 See also the subsection ‘Museums’.

17 See also the subsection ‘Museums’.

18 For the cultural policy profile of Jordan, see the contribution by Nawal Ali and Samah Hijawi.

19 See else the subsection ‘Broadcasting'.

20 See also the subsection "National and international festivals"

21 See the subsection "Interministerial, or intergovernmental and intersectoral cooperation".

22 The STD board is chaired by Mrs Asmaa Al-Assad, the President’s wife.

23 See also the cultural policy profile of Jordan, by Nawal Ali and Samah Hijawi

24 See note 11, I83.

25 See the subsection "International cultural policy and cooperation”.

26 The Mosaic Exhibition hall has been inaugurated in the Castle of Damascus

27 See the subsection "International cultural policy and cooperation".

28 See the subsection "Popular organizations".

29 Radio broadcasting is regulated by Legislative Decree No 10 (2002).

30 See the subsection "The independent sector".

31 Decree No 2543 (1969).

32 See also the subsection "Ministry of Culture".

33 Resolution No 1294, based on law No 13 (1990).

34 According to Presidential Decree (No 192).

35 See the subsection “The independent sector”.

36 See the subsection "international cultural policy and cooperation".

1 This chapter is based on research and analysis by Reem Al Khatib and Rana Yazaji, initiated by Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy), in close cooperation with the European Cultural Foundation, and with the support of the DOEN Foundation and the British Council. The Syrian European Documentation Center (SEDC, Syria) translated the research report from the Arabic. The Boekman Foundation is responsible for abridging, summarizing and editing this report and the retrieval of additional information from the internet.

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