Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Lanterns of Ramadan

Lanterns of Ramadan
Lanterns of Ramadan

FOR CENTURIES the fanous, plural fawanees, a special coloured lantern, has been used to decorate houses and streets in Egypt during the holy month of Ramadan, but today economic changes are affecting this traditional industry, reports Amira Elhamy.

Ever since the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah ordered the imams of Cairo’s mosques to hang the lanterns on the doors of buildings to illuminate the streets during the nights of Ramadan 10 centuries ago, the fanous has become a household item each Ramadan.

A traditional fanous in Egypt is made of tin and coloured glass, but over the years the traditional industry has had to adapt to competition from China. New designs have evolved, and new materials such as plastic, wood and fabric have been introduced into the production process, providing a wide range of prices to cater for different income brackets.

The Chinese fanous, made of plastic, comes in all shapes and sizes. It used to be a popular item a couple of years ago, but this popularity has faded, commented Nourhan, who owns a shop selling fawanees in the Sayeda Zeinab neighbourhood of Cairo. She said that since the floatation of the pound in November 2016, the price of imported items, including the Chinese fanous, has doubled.

A medium-sized Chinese fanous costs between LE75 and LE120, Nourhan said. While people purchased the Chinese lanterns a lot in the past, she told Al-Ahram Weekly, this year “a family with three or four children cannot afford this kind of money.” Instead, people are opting for cheaper alternatives locally made of wood or fabric. The Egyptian equivalent lantern made of wood costs LE60. A smaller size of wooden fanous costs around LE20, she said.

However, even the local products have witnessed price increases. “The price of raw materials has increased,” said Ahmed, who owns another shop in Sayeda Zeinab. Tin, tin plate and coloured glass, the three main materials used in manufacturing the traditional fanous, have tripled in price, according to Khalil Kamel who works in a shop that has been manufacturing fawanees for over 90 years.

One of the ways the local industry has survived is by catering to what the market wants. This year, the most popular fanous on the market carries a picture of football player Mohamed Salah who plays with the English club Liverpool and the Egyptian national team. “Many buyers are eager to buy this new design,” Ahmed commented.

A Chinese fanous with an image of Salah costs around LE150, while the Egyptian equivalent, made of wood, costs LE50. “The imported fanous is more of a toy,” said Kamel who has been working in the workshop with his father since he left school. “This industry has never been affected by imported goods. The traditional Egyptian fanous is still the number one on the market.”

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