It is still time to celebrate: Ramadan lantern market struggles amid surge in prices

Zeinab El-Gundy , Friday 1 Apr 2022

It is the time of the year where Ramadan merchandise from lanterns to decorations invade Egypt’s streets; despite overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, the recent surge in prices nationwide is taking its toll.

Ramadan Lanterns
Egyptian women walking beside Egyptian Ramadan Lanterns for sale in El-Sayeda Zeinab s El-Sad street in Cairo (Photo: Zeinab El-Gundy)

“People are just tired from high prices” one of the vendors in the big makeshift Ramadan market in the famous El-Sayeda Zeinab quarter told Ahram Online when asked about the surge of prices in general and its impact on the market and Ramadan lanterns.

The famous and popular El-Sayeda Zeinab quarter in Cairo is known for many things, whether for the Shrine of El-Sayeda Zeinab (the granddaughter of Prophet Mohamed) and her famous birthday celebration (moulid), the Islamic Museum of Cairo, or its old mosques, and buildings that are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Islamic Cairo.

Its annual market selling Ramadan lanterns is one more tradition that can be added to the list of famous attractions.

Traditional Egyptian Ramadan lanterns, which reportedly originated in Medieval Fatimid Egypt, are handmade in the quarter’s workshops before being sold in the market.

On El-Sad Street right beside El-Sayeda Zeinab, the makeshift lantern market is held for three weeks before the holy month starts, selling all sorts and shapes of traditional Ramadan lanterns. More recently, they have begun selling other Ramadan decorations and merchandises as well. Their wares appeal to customers from the middle and working classes looking for a bargain.

According to several vendors on El-Sad Street who spoke to Ahram Online, the lantern prices increased by 25 percent over last year.

There are lanterns of all types and styles available in the market that are sold for as little as EGP three to as much as EGP 1,500.

The cheapest lanterns are plastic while the more expensive ones are made of tin, wood and cloth.

The most expensive electric lanterns are handmade in a traditional style from glass and tin. These are the biggest of the lanterns and are typically sold to hotels and restaurants.

The increase in the price of lanterns across the city, not just in El-Sayeda Zeinab, comes despite the Cairo Chamber of Commerce’s announcement in March that Egypt has reached self-sufficiency in Ramadan lanterns, except for a small microchip unit for sound and light imported from China.

In late 1990s, the traditional lantern industry was on the verge of the extinction thanks to an invasion of plastic Chinese lanterns. The domestic industry was saved by a 2015 decision to ban the import of Chinese lanterns, which even helped the industry expand with ideas and designs to attract new generations.

Yet, the Chinese lanterns still find their ways onto shop shelves despite the ban, where they are easily spotted compared to the real thing.

Merchants have circumvented the ban by importing lanterns as house decorations or toys.

In the El-Sayeda Zeinab market, there is growing interest in other Ramadan decorations and merchandise, especially the new line of tableware and glassware including trays and glasses styled in the famous Khayamia patterns. Nonetheless, Ramadan lanterns are still finding customers from children and grandparents alike.

Nuts, dried fruits and dates, which are staple Ramadan food, are being sold at a discount this year, since many nuts (walnuts, hazlenuts and pistachios) and dried fruits like (raisins, dried figs and apricots) are expensive imported commodities.

In the street, a huge booth set up by Egypt’s Parliamentary majority party (Mostaqbel Watan) is selling Ramadan food, nuts, dried fruits as well as Ramadan drinks (Carob, hibiscus and Kamaredin) with discounts reaching 30 percent.

The party has set up booths like this throughout Cairo and other governorates in cooperation with the government to help people deal with the current surge in prices.

Customers are still buying merchandise, but in less quantity than in previous years. However, demand is still sufficient for the merchants and vendors this year.

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