Photo source: Garagous, the story of 21 years of jesuit and brothers 1946-1967, by father William Sedhom published in 2018
This week, the archbishopric of Thebes signed a collaboration protocol for comprehensive development with Mamdouh El-Sherbiny, executive manager of the Handicraft Chamber of Egypt. The protocol includes handicrafts in Qena, Luxor, Aswan, and the Red sea.
“This protocol aims to decrease the rates of unemployment and create job opportunities through the numerous projects implemented by the Egyptian Coptic Catholic church. The protocol also emphasises and preserves the identity of Egyptian art and culture as well as reviving the heritage districts and the affiliated handicrafts,” stated Mosaad Omran, head of the Egyptian Handicraft Chamber of the Federation of Egyptian Industries, in the press release.
The protocol comes after a critical time that the Garagous handmade pottery factory faced in Qena last month.
The factory that was established in 1966 by the Jesuits and Brothers in Qous closed its doors after an eviction notice was handed to the old artisans and masters of the trade. The conflict started almost 9 months ago over one of Egypt’s most authentic practices of intangible heritage, to say the least. On 19 April, they closed down the factory officially.
“In 2018, the Egyptian Handicraft Chamber, in collaboration with Bank Misr and Minya University, held a 15-month long gender balanced workshop among the 25 youth of Garagous on the pottery craft. The workshop also included people with disabilities. The oldest artisans of Gargous were among those who gave the training. The workshop included making pottery that is environment friendly. The results were 2,600 impressive pottery pieces, a new generation of pottery makers, as well as Garagous’s own trademark,” explained El-Sherbiny
In 2019, a legal feud on the profit shares among the heirs of the artisan tenants was settled in favour of one heir for EGP 160,000 and a threat to foreclose the machines and equipment of the factory was issued, said El-Sherbiny.
Meanwhile, another conflict between the church as the owner of the factory and the tenants surfaced. The result was a court verdict and an implementation of the eviction notice on 9 April 2021.
According to Mariam Shawqi, the legal spokesperson of the church, “the artisans destroyed the authentic handmade furnaces that belonged to the church and replaced them without informing the church prior to doing so,” she noted.
“The furnaces that are owned by the artisans are handmade and are annually rebuilt, and this year they made a more advanced model that is environmentally friendly. According to the inspection record, this is a form of development and not demolition,” argued Nour Bastawi, the lawyer representing the artisans of the pottery factory. The appeal he filed remains to be reviewed in court.
Despite the efforts to settle such conflicts, the fact remains, the Garagous pottery factory will resume its iconic pottery production and development project without the masters of the trade, sadly.