Jordan’s Jerash festival marks 31st year despite regional turmoil
Jerash - Jordan’s Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts celebrated its 31st year as a hub for art, music and literature, attracting more than 100,000 people despite regional civil wars and militant violence.
About 20,000 people attended the July 31st closing performances, making the festival one of the most popular outings for Jordanians and Arab tourists in the kingdom, said festival Executive Director Mohammed Abu Summaqa.
Jordan has had violent incidents from the Syrian civil war spilling over its northern border war but tourists, mainly from Gulf Arab states, still travelled to the Jerash festival about 50km north of Amman.
“We came to Jordan to spend some quiet time, enjoying the summer and indulging in the rich programme of the Jerash festival,” said Wesal al-Faisal, a Kuwaiti housewife and mother of six.
Abu Summaqa said having the annual cultural event “demonstrated Jordan’s stability and showed that regional unrest had no impact on the local art scene”.
The Jerash festival in 2016 proceeded amid heightened security concerns, with the Islamic State (ISIS) mounting deadly attacks worldwide, said Jerash Mayor Ali Qoqazeh.
Jordan was not spared, with ISIS terror plots foiled in the spring and summer, Qoqazeh said.
“The terror threats resulted in beefed up security measures and contingency plans but not the cancellation of the event,” he said. “Some gates to the marketplace in the ancient city were shut during the festival and several roads were sealed off with people searched at the entrance.”
Despite the stricter measures, attendance rates were “much higher” than last year, Abu Summaqa said. Other festival officials said attendance in 2016 was about 30% more than in 2015.
The festival, which had its first edition in 1981 (there was a hiatus from 2008-11), is considered a main attraction for tourists, especially for people from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf Arab region. Gulf Arabs take advantage of the summer break to enjoy a moderate climate in Jordan, away from the scorching desert heat in their home countries.
The festival began in the ancient city’s Greco- Roman theatres with ceremonies attended by state officials, dignitaries and foreign diplomats.
At least 12 Jordanian bands, 81 Jordanian artists, eight Arab singers, 12 Arab and foreign bands and 112 local and Arab writers and poets performed at Jerash 2016. Abu Summaqa said participating singers included Lebanon’s Wael Kfouri and Najwa Karam, Tunisia’s Latifa and Iraq’s Kadim al- Sahir. International troupes were booked from Portugal, France, Argentina and other countries.
The festival also presented poetry recitals and exhibitions showcasing handicrafts, food products and other traditional items.
“Jerash Festival is a truly big event and this year the festival is really going global as a lot of efforts were made to make it a worldwide event through excellent marketing efforts and advertisement,” Tunisian singer Latifa posted on Twitter.
Jordanian Rabee’ Hassan said the Jerash festival is becoming part of the Jordanian identity.
“People know it very well as it brings joy during summer,” he said. “The festival is really becoming a must-see event in the kingdom and this year they have brought a host of much-loved singers and I am going to see Lebanese singer Wael Kfouri perform.”
A ticket for Kfouri’s performance was around $45, expensive for some Jordanian families, especially those with incomes averaging $300 a month.
“My wife and I attended for 60 Jordanian dinars ($85), which is very expensive for those who have big families but going to see a movie will cost you 15 dinars ($21), so I think it is worth it to pay double and listen to your favourite singer perform live. Some activities are free to watch and attend and this is also good,” he said.
Hassan pointed out that the festival provides a breath of fresh air from day-to-day struggles.
“These days, we only hear bad news: killings, explosions, accidents, wars and terrorism. This festival brings hope that we deserve to be happy and enjoy our time with our families,” he said.