On Wednesday, UNESCO included the Egyptian manual-textile industry in Upper Egypt in its list of intangible cultural heritage sites in need of urgent preservation.
Qena, Aswan, and Sohag, to be specific, are the main geographic areas where hand loom weaving is still in practice.
“The registration will, by all means, help raise awareness about the importance of handicrafts in general, it will encourage other handicrafts to apply for registration, which is one of the main goals of the 2003 UNESCO agreement,” explained Nahla Emam, intangible heritage expert and Egypt’s representative in the 2003 agreement, to Ahram Online.
“Being in a country whose heritage is very much alive, with such a step we aim to change the social stigma that has affected our handicrafts since the days of colonisation,” added Emam. This step will encourage the government to open more markets for handmade weaving, provide health insurance and social security, and create a safe means to hand it from one generation to the other, she noted.
“Perhaps adding traditional weaving in school activities would be a step forward,” she suggested.
Adding handmade weaving to the list was not an easy task. Among the conditions negotiated was that it should have an economic value on those who practice it. Together, with the great efforts of the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs, Egypt won the debate.
Egypt’s answer was that sustainable development is a key to the survival of intangible heritage; the craftspeople ought to be the first to enjoy the fruits of their labour. People do not make things to be put in museums, she noted.
“If it has an economic value, people will be keen to safeguard it and transmit it to their children, a handicraft artist deserves a fair income after all,” she concluded.
It is worth mentioning that this is the fourth time that Egypt has succeeded in adding its cultural activities to UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage.
The first to be registered on the list was Al-Sirah Al-Helalya (The Epic of Beni Helal) in 2008, then Tahteeb (Stick Art) in 2016, followed by the Aragouz puppet in 2018, as well as the knowledge and traditions affiliated with palm trees in 2019, and now hand loom weaving.