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CAIRO: Pyramids, masks of Tutankhamun, busts of Nefertiti – Egyptian souvenir makers are basing their hopes on new economic life, after tourism has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the shadow of the magnificent pyramids of Giza, Eid Yousri makes pharaonic polyester figurines from a humble workshop erected on the roof of his family home.
“We have lost nearly 70% of our turnover,” he told AFP, lamenting the fall of visitors to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Before the pandemic, “we had around 15 workers – up from five today,” he said, noting that even the remaining staff were not full-time.
He sells his products from as low as 20 Egyptian pounds (about $ 1.30) to 200 pounds.
Hundreds of small business owners and artisans have been forced to shut down much of their business, stifled by canceled flights and restrictions on movement around the world.
Yousri hopes that foreign tourists will be drawn to Egypt at the end of the year, “especially Americans”, with some American groups expected in September.
In 2019, the last full year before the start of the pandemic, tourism accounted for around 12% of Egypt’s GDP.
After a long period of political instability that weighed on profits, industry revenues reached $ 13 billion that year.
But in 2020, a year when Egypt initially envisioned another rebound to $ 16 billion, revenue slumped to $ 4 billion.
In a recent interview with AFP, Tourism Minister Khaled El-Enani welcomed a partial recovery in the number of visitors.
Around 500,000 have flown each month since April this year, more than double the number in January and compared to an average of just 200,000 tourists per month in 2020.
Across town, in the narrow, labyrinthine lanes of Khan el-Khalili in Islamic Cairo, tourist Caroline Bucher is looking for “locally made” products to bring back to her native Dominican Republic.
“We are looking for quality, handmade souvenirs that speak to the local culture,” she told AFP. “It must be a souvenir from the trip.”
In a souvenir market flooded for many years by cheap Chinese imports, the government is seeking to meet the demand for quality products sought after by tourists like Bucher.
On the eastern outskirts of Cairo, a new antique reproduction factory has been preparing since March to capitalize on the long-awaited post-pandemic era.
The factory, named Konouz (treasures in Arabic), produces furniture, statuettes and paintings that trace four major periods of Egyptian heritage: Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic.
Reproductions, in 1: 1 scale or miniaturized, are accompanied by an official certificate of authenticity issued by the government.
The sprawling 10,000 square meter (about 107,650 square feet) factory is run by Hisham Sharawi, a retired general, who oversees about 150 workers, painters, cabinet makers, sculptors and designers.
“We opened a gift shop at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization” in April, he told AFP.
Other Konouz souvenir shops will open later in museums and major archaeological sites.
“When the tourists come back, we’ll be ready,” promised Ahmed Aboul Gheir, who is also working on the “Made in Egypt” initiative.
Government investments under the program total EGP 80 million and focus on quality production.
In 2015, the Ministry of Industry banned “imports of goods and products of a popular artistic nature”, including “Egyptian antique models” as a protective measure to protect its local cottage industry from less foreign competition. Dear.
Most replicas of objects from the factory are cast in polyester, plaster or metal. Specialized machines give the replicas a “finishing touch” before they are hand painted or coated with gold leaf.
But the cheaper items created under the initiative also risk crowding out local artisans who are unable to produce in such large volumes.
Items in Konouz range from a small amulet sold for 50 Egyptian pounds to a three-meter statue that costs customers thousands of pounds.
Tourism expert Elhamy Al-Zayat calls the government’s initiative a “smart marketing exercise.”
But he warned against flooding the replica market.
“You must not produce too much, otherwise it loses value,” he notes.