This blog post is the Fifth in a series of posts from =mc’s Senior Associate Consultant Laurence Brady, who is currently undertaking an exciting piece of fundraising work in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time on the project, Laurence will be writing regular blog posts in a series called ‘The MENA Blogs’.
King Abdullah of Jordan has just returned from an official visit to Singapore and Indonesia. On this trip he delivered a speech about Islam and peace. He also received a surprising invitation. Members of the Indonesian Al Nahda and Mohammedan societies together with Sufi Imams, asked him to be the spiritual leader of Indonesia, a nation that is home to more than 240 million people.
One Jordanian political commentator observed how this exceptional offer ‘reminded all of the Islamic depth Jordan has in the Muslim world’. It’s a reminder, too, of the king’s potential to attract investment for his country, one that does not enjoy the oil wealth of its Arab neighbours. This trip was also about securing financial and economic investment for a country that is struggling to feed and support a growing number of Syrian refugees – now estimated to be 1.2 million. The king puts Jordan on the world map.
King Abdullah of Jordan (image via www.indynewsisrael.com)
Even when he is abroad, the king is at home in Jordan: it is not uncommon to see A4 and poster-sized images of him in shops, restaurants and offices. And if you missed those, there are the huge messages imprinted on the hills of Amman: Long Live The King. His influence is everywhere, his importance to social and political stability undeniable.
He is present, too, in the cultural development of Jordan. In the centre of Amman, there is a business centre which hosts the King Abdullah Fund for Development as well as the likes of Microsoft and other giant multinationals. It may be called a business centre, but it is in fact a patrolled, walled fortress that is separated from the bustle of the city – not the most welcoming of environments, and not one that speaks of corporate social responsibility.
Nevertheless, Omar Razzaz, the director of the King Abdullah Fund is warm and welcoming. The Fund prides itself on being a funder and facilitator for young people and entrepreneurs. There is, he says, “a boom in Jordan in the creative sector; a lot to be done still, but there is innovation”. He talks enthusiastically about partnerships and the creation of a new fund that will support training and development in the Arts and creative industries.
Not everyone presents such a bright view of the future. Souha Bawab is the Executive Director of the Friends of Jordan Festival. She has worked hard to bring a diversity of performing Arts and artists to Jordan – from sacred music to Cirque Du Soleil to opera to Julio Iglesias – since she established the Festival in 2010. The challenge, she says, is that culture is not a priority in Jordan, and there is no infrastructure to support it.
In spite of these difficulties, the first line of the Festival’s mission remains the same: To implement His Majesty King Abdullah’s vision in promoting Jordan as a touristic, cultural and economic destination.
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Clare Segal, Director