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Egypt's timeless professions: The tarboush-maker

In one of the narrow streets of Khan El-Khalili, the craft of making the tarboush or fez survives to this day

Amira Noshokaty , Friday 8 May 2015
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The first in Ahram Online's series on timeless Egyptian professions is tarboush-making.

Whoever said that the tarboush (fez) is out of fashion obviously hadn't met Hajj Nasser.

 

In one of the narrow, busy streets of Khan El-Khalili, Cairo's enchanting and historic market, tarabish are still being made today.  

Owned and run by Nasser Abdel-Basset or Hajj Nasser, the little shop, tucked away from time, is one of only two such shops left in Cairo. “I’ve been working in this profession for the past 39 years. I inherited it from my father and older brother and now I am passing it on to my son,” explained Abdel-Basset.

The tarboush or fez became trendy in 1829, after Sultan Mohammed II prohibited wearing turbans for all those except religious officials. It reached Egypt during the rule of Mohammed Ali, and was the default headwear of men until the 1952 revolution.

Ironically enough, those who preserved the tarboush were those banned from wearing it when it was first made -- Muslim clerics. In Egypt, the men of faith now wear a deep red tarboush that is covered by a white headband allowing only the tip of the tarboush to show. At Abdel-Basset’s shop, three designs of tarboush are tucked behind the glass windows while dozens of business cards featuring the photos of sheikhs wearing his merchandise adorn the walls.

“Al-Azhar is what makes us continue in this profession,” explained Abdel-Basset, adding that currently there are three types of tarboush that vary according to the professional status of each sheikh: the imam, (prayer leader), the preacher, and the scholar.

“In the past, the commoners wore tarabish resembling King Farouk’s,” he added. “It was an important item and no government entity accepted the entrance of anyone without his tarboush on."

“Even schools dictated that all men should wear tarabish, and they did,” he said, remembering how the 30 chairs in his shop used to be busy all day as boys and men made tarabish.

That has changed now, but the little shop in the alley survives by making deep red tarabish for the clergy, as well as different colours for tourists who are looking for a unique souvenir.

tarboush

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