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Egypt's timeless professions: Crafting copper

Ahram Online meets the copper-workers who make traditional ornaments by hand

Amira Noshokaty , Friday 15 May 2015
Views: 3553
Views: 3553

In the second of our series on traditional professions that survive to this day, Ahram Online looks at one of Egypt's oldest trades.

A pair of talented hands knock, knock, knock on the copper, magically transforming it into a handmade pendant. In a small workshop on the third floor of a building in Cairo's Khan El-Khalili district lies one of the oldest copper workshops in the bazaar.



"I have been working here for the past 30 years," explained Hussien Abdel-Hamid while shaping his latest artwork. Abdel-Hamid learnt the profession of copper-working from his brother, and is passionate about the craft, which has existed since the time of the ancient Egyptians.

In recent times craftsmen like Abdel-Hamid have become dependent on tourists to sell their wares, and with the downturn in the number of visitors to Egypt in recent years, they have been suffering. Seeing the problem, Fair Trade Egypt stepped in. Fair Trade, a global movement that started in the 1980s with the goal of empowering artisans by selling their works abroad and giving them a fair share of the sales, was established in Egypt in 2004.

Ahmed Tawfiq, the manager and the son of the owner of the workshop, explains the impact of their support to his business. After switching to pure copper sheets, and thus cutting down on lead and rust, and introducing modern flairs to the trade, business started to pick up.

"They really helped us in developing our work, by making us focus more on how to utilise such products," Tawfiq explained. "Like the traditional palm-shaped mirror which we usually make as an ornament -- they showed us how it could also have hooks for keys at its tip," he added.  As a result of this support, Tawfiq is not worried about competition from China; he knows that mass production cannot compete with hand-made products.

"We are currently working with 32 workshops all over Egypt, as well as providing technical support and training to 2,300 producers, varying from workshops to NGOs," explained Khaled Eliwa, Fair Trade Egypt field cooridnator. "We aim to revive and cherish such handicrafts because it's their right to preserve their profession," he said.

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