Egypt souvenir market pins hopes on tourism resurgence
In the shadow of the magnificent Giza Pyramids, Eid Yousri manufactures polyester Pharaonic figurines from a humble workshop erected on the roof of his family home.
“We’ve lost nearly 70 percent of our business,” Yousri said, lamenting the plunge in visitors to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Before the pandemic, “we had about 15 workers compared to five today,” he said, noting that even the remaining staff were not full-time.
He sells his products from as little as 20 Egyptian pounds ($1.30) to 200 pounds ($13).
Hundreds of small business owners and artisans have been forced to mothball much of their activity, choked by cancelled flights and movement restrictions around the world.
On the other side of town, in the narrow alleys of Khan el-Khalili in Cairo, tourist Caroline Bucher is on the hunt for “locally made” products to bring back home to her native Dominican Republic.
“We’re looking for handmade and quality souvenirs, that are about local culture,” she told AFP. “It has to be a memory of the trip.”
In a souvenir market that was for many years flooded by cheap Chinese imports, the government is seeking to meet the demand for quality products sought out by tourists like Bucher.
The factory, named Konouz (treasures in Arabic), produces furniture, statuettes and paintings that retrace four major periods of Egyptian heritage: Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic.
Reproductions, in 1:1 scale or miniaturized, are accompanied by an official government-issued certificate of authenticity.
The vast 10,000 square meter factory is run by Hisham Sharawi, a retired general, who supervises around 150 workers, painters, cabinetmakers, sculptors and designers.
“We opened a gift shop at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation” in April, he told AFP.
Other Konouz gift shops will open at museums and key archaeological sites later on.
“When tourists come back, we will be ready,” pledged Ahmed Aboul Gheir, who is also working on the ‘Made in Egypt’ initiative.
Government-driven investment under the scheme totals 80 million Egyptian pounds ($5.2 million) and focuses on quality production.
In 2015, the ministry of industry prohibited “the imports of products of a popular art nature”, including “models of Egyptian Antiquities” as a protective measure to safeguard its home-grown crafts industry from cheaper foreign competition.
Most of the factory’s replica objects are cast in polyester, plaster or metal. Specialized machines give a “final touch” to the replicas before they are painted by hand or covered with gold leaf.
But the cheaper items created under the initiative also risk crowding out local craftsmen who are unable to produce in such high volumes.