Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Morocco comes to Egypt

Morocco was guest of honour at the Egyptian Handicrafts Festival this year. Amira El-Noshokaty savoured the experience

Zahmawi adding the final touch to the exhibition at Beit Al-Sennary
Al-Ahram Weekly

“He who forsakes his past is lost,” goes the Egyptian proverb, and it has been reused this year as the slogan of the annual Handicrafts Festival held at the Beit Al-Sennary in Cairo and organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Ministry of Culture. For its seventh edition, Morocco was the festival’s guest of honour.

“Old is always beautiful, whether in music, arts or manners,” said Zakia Zahmawi, head of the Moroccan Social Coalition, an NGO carrying out Moroccan activities in Egypt, in her opening speech at the festival.

the book cover of Moroccans in Egypt

Zahmawi is a Moroccan businesswoman who has spent some 18 years in Egypt, and she has spared no effort in promoting dialogue between Moroccans and Egyptians.

Historical cultural and social ties between the two countries go a long way back. Morocco has always been one of the main gateways for Sufis, or religious adepts, into Egypt. On their long pilgrimages to Mecca, Moroccans have also long passed through Egypt, often considering it to be almost a second home.

Moroccan merchants have also had major impacts on the Egyptian economy. According to Moroccans in Egypt to the Eighteenth Century, a book by author Hossam Abdel-Ati, after the fall of Granada in Spain in 1492 a wave of Moroccan immigrants settled in Egypt. These were often merchants dealing in coffee, Indian textiles and tarboush (a kind of traditional headgear).

Traditional handmade Moroccan ornaments

In 1610, the Moroccan Ali Al-Rewaei was the head of the “chamber of commerce” in Egypt, known then as the Shahbandar al-tuggar, and this explains why one of the busiest commercial districts in Cairo is named after him. Moroccans, especially those from the city of Fez, were also interested in building mosques in Cairo and Alexandria, and one of these, the Al-Bakri Mosque, was built in the 18th century in the Cairo district of Azbakeya by the Moroccan Ahmed Al-Rewaei who also built a mill and many shops and workshops.

The Moroccan pavilion in the Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo is another famous Moroccan point of memory. Al-Azhar itself was built by the Fatimids in the 10th century CE, these being an originally Moroccan ruling dynasty that moved from Morocco to Egypt. The Moroccan pavilion at Al-Azhar was built later by the Mameluke sultan Nasser ibn Qalawoun when Al-Azhar was divided into 22 pavilions for people from different nationalities and Islamic schools.

At this year’s Handicrafts Festival the Moroccan stands featured folk music with a dancing beat and the orange-and-green Moroccan flag hung on top of Moroccan handicrafts, natural body care products, traditional abayas (cloaks) and leather slippers. A seminar on Moroccan handicrafts was also held, followed by storytelling and a fashion show.

There was also Moroccan food. Chef Salwa, baking and cooking every morning, was showcasing her exquisite Moroccan food in style. Moroccan cuisine has a flair for sweet and sour, with sugar standing side-by-side with salt. “We even use sugar to wash chicken before cooking it,” Salwa noted.

There is a well-known Moroccan soup called Harira, rich in tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas and lamb and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped coriander. This was in evidence at the fair. Tagines, another signature Moroccan dish, were also being prepared, this being a meat dish eaten with fruit such as pineapple and dried apricots. For dessert, there was chebekia or fried dough dipped in honey and sesame seeds.   

Moroccan bread is quite similar to Egyptian shamsi bread and flat baladi bread, as well as the bread eaten in Siwa and Nubia. It is round, thin and very much resembling crepe in texture and shape.

Moroccans and Egyptians have similar traditions, like al-sabaa, or the seventh day, which is a celebration usually held by the family of a new-born child on its seventh day from birth. “In Morocco, we sing and put a small piece of henna on the hand of the infant and sometimes kohl around the eyes,” Zahmawi said.

In Egypt, a child is traditionally carried by the mother in a circular movement around the house, followed by family members holding candles and singing. The mother then puts the child on the ground and crosses over him seven times while chanting religious songs and asking God to protect the new-born child. Lots of seeds and greenery are put into a special pot for the child in the hope of a prosperous life.

Another similarity is the way the people of the two countries buy new clothes for the Bayram feast. In Egypt, the tradition is limited to children, but in Morocco the whole family has new silk abayas to wear and new leather slippers, Zahmawi explained.

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