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.
One of the key players is the non-profit NGO Syria Trust for Development (STD, 2007).(1) 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.
- The STD board is chaired by Mrs Asmaa Al-Assad, the President’s wife.
[♥] From: Syria by Reem Al Khatib and Rana Yazaji published in ‘Cultural Policies in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia. An introduction’, Cultural Resource/European Cultural Foundation, Bookmanstudies, 2010, 189-190.