Massive crowds attend El-Roumi’s concert at Jerash, COVID protocols ignored

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(Photos: Sarah Abu-Sa’ad/Jordan News)
JERASH — The 35th edition of the Jerash Festival kicked off last Wednesday, to the joy of all Jordanians who have been eager for cultural events after a long drought due to the cancelation and postponement of such mass events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.اضافة اعلان

Jerash, 48km north of Amman, is a city of some 50,000 people, and is one of the most well-preserved sites of ancient Roman architecture in the world outside Italy. To this day, the streets are still colonnaded, and the baths, theatres, plazas, and arches are preserved in exceptional condition, the Jerash Festival’s official website noted. 

“The festival’s philosophy, which is one of the oldest and most prominent festivals in the Arab region, is to introduce Arab and international creativity from an archaeological platform that is steeped in the history of human civilizations,” Ayman Samawi, the CEO of the festival, said, according to festival’s official website. Samawi did not respond to our attempts to get his comments.

Each year, Jordanians and visitors from the Arab world attend the festival that had a packed schedule of events and activities. Hundreds of Jordanian and Arab artists are featured, and thousands attend the festival each year. 

“I think the festival is pivotal for the promotion of culture in Jordan, bringing the most recognized artists in the Arab world together contributes to a more cultured society in the creative aspects of life,” said Rafael Santos, a 25-year-old from Portugal, told Jordan News, after attending one of the festival’s concerts. 

(Photos: Sarah Abu-Sa’ad/Jordan News)

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Jerash festival was brought back by the Ministry of Tourism, with 80 local and regional performers. The festival kicked off with the Lebanese musical icon Majida El-Roumi

“The festival’s vitality is due to the outstanding Jordanian role in being a model for security and stability, in addition to being an incubator for culture and creativity,” Samawi said on the festival website. 

Roumi herself returned to the Jerash festival after a 20-year absence. Many were excited to attend her concert on Wednesday. The concert tickets sold for JD15 each, and as organizers had expected, it was a full house. 

On the way to the festival

Unfortunately, just before you start getting close to the festival area, the stink from the sewers is the first thing you notice as you enter the ancient city. The second thing you notice is the heavy police presence, at every street corner and entry point. 

Festival goers had to park their cars far away from the actual festival area, a 15 minutes’ walk. Some complained about the distance they had to walk and how older people might not be able to walk for such a long distance. 

“The walking distance is far from the stage area. We parked down the hill, many might not be able to walk this distance,” Nidal Nihad, a 31 years old communications engineer, told Jordan News. 

Crowding, chaos and organizational issues

here were two security checkpoints festival goers had to go through before reaching the theatre, where police officers with screening devices thoroughly checked everyone and their belongings. The first checkpoint was in the open air, located before the theatre doors, the second checkpoint was characterized by chaos and overcrowding.

(Photos: Sarah Abu-Sa’ad/Jordan News)

“Considering the previous threats and how big the festival is, I wasn’t surprised by the large security presence and I felt safe in general. But, the organization itself lacked the logistical measures, which blemished what could’ve been an absolute success,” Santos said. 

He said compliance with COVID prevention measures was “non-existent” in the long lines of people waiting to get it. He further noted the “use of force” by security personnel in what should be a simple admissions process, and the large number of people in the theater, negatively impacted the festival.

There was a second separate checkpoint for women, a small cabin that had three female police officers who went through every single bag. The policewomen wore the same gloves through out and did not maintain social distancing protocols.  

Several times, the female officers asked festival goers standing at the security checkpoint queue to come closer to each other to allow more people to enter the venue, leaving no space between them. 

Once you are heavily searched, and all of your lighters and perfumes are confiscated, without an explanation, you would then be able to walk into the theater area. They would then walk up the high stairs, where many ushers were present trying to help people find their seats, especially the VIP ticket holders. 

The VIP area had comfortable seating with pillows and plastic cones between seats that enforced social distancing protocols. However, these cones were not available for the remaining seating areas, which were packed with hundreds of people when the concert began, leaving people sitting very close to each other. The festival ushers did try to enforce the social distancing rules. However, due to the massive number of people attending, they couldn’t keep up. 

However, the concert was a success. The crowds enjoyed Roumi’s emotional performance. Even after losing consciousness on stage due to a drop in her blood pressure, the crowds waited for her to return and cheered for her to feel better, which she did. 

“The concert was great, one cannot miss Majida El-Roumi’s concert, and the organizers have done a decent job,”  Wejdan Bahra, 68 years old, told Jordan News.  

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