The entire country of Egypt is filled with excitement over the festivities of the holy month of Ramadan. The houses and streets are decorated with Ramadan lanterns that light up the night with bright colours. Nevertheless, Ramadan’s lantern industry is facing collapse due to the Chinese invasion of the industry.
In Egypt, the Ramadan lantern is revered as a beloved and important symbol that reflects the region's culture and heritage; however, the lantern industry in Egypt is showing signs of recession. Ramadan lanterns are being imported from abroad—especially from China. This foreign invasion of the market has caused many lantern workshops to go bankrupt recently.
Ismail Mohamed Saeed, a lantern salesman from the Al Sayeda Zeinab area, says, “The Egyptian workshop owners still utilise primitive techniques, which were handed down from generation to generation, to build Ramadan lanterns. They use soldering irons, scissors, hammers, and their lanterns are made of cast iron. Now that China has invaded the industry, they recreate the traditional Ramadan lantern shape every year. Even worse, they make plastic Ramadan lanterns that play the music of the latest pop songs!” Mahmoud Al Masry, an owner of a lantern shop in the Al-Hussein neighbourhood, warns, “The Egyptian Ramadan lantern workshops are in danger of collapse and bankruptcy. They simply cannot compete with the Chinese Ramadan lanterns which are distinctive, come in different shapes and sizes, and are very inexpensive. The price and the shape of the Chinese Ramadan lanterns are the most important elements in attracting adults and youngsters alike.”
Masry adds, “The Chinese lanterns are sold in Egypt for anywhere from 10 to 60 pounds [EGP]. The Egyptian lanterns are sold for anywhere from 40 to 300 pounds—this is because of their size, shape, and the quality of their construction. However, the consumers usually prefer buying the cheaper lanterns, overlooking quality.”
Workshop owner, Ahmad Ali, says, “The Chinese use modern methods in their production of Ramadan lanterns that the Egyptian lantern makers simply do not have. When Egyptian workshops tried to compete and modernise, they asked for the Alumni of the College of Fine Arts to assist by drawing pictures and beautiful shapes on the glass of their lanterns. Then the Chinese surprised us all and came up with the idea of making lanterns that look like puppets and airplanes that walk and sing. They even work by remote control—to top that off they are still cheap!" Ali implores, “The Egyptian government, which is represented by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, needs to take an interest in the Egyptian Ramadan lantern industry and help modernise it. Most importantly, the government should regulate Chinese imports and enforce specific stipulations concerning imported goods."
Mohamed Abdul Aziz, an accountant, declares, “I buy the original Egyptian-made Ramadan lantern every year; however, I can see how the overinflated prices of these lanterns force many consumers to opt for buying the imported ones because they simply cannot afford the Egyptian ones."
Mohsen Khalil Rakha, an employee, says, “The present economic crisis stops people from being able to afford the Egyptian-made lanterns. Personally, I buy the Chinese lanterns for my children—they like the songs coming from them.”
In an exclusive interview, Dr. Salah Edin Fahmy, professor of Economics at the American University in Cairo, says, “The cost of importing the Ramadan Lantern from China last month reached 2.5 million Egyptian pounds. This is just one episode from a series of Chinese invasions of our Egyptian market. Can you believe they also produce the cakes we eat during Eid? They were sold in our markets—and they are cheaper than the Egyptian cakes!” He warns, “The industry is a source of income for thousands. They’ve begun to export their goods to other countries in the Arab World and to some counties in Europe, like Germany. The Egyptian lantern makers are faced with tough choices: they can either ration their budgets between the high cost of raw materials and the rise of wages for their employees, or sell competitively to counteract the low prices of the Chinese Ramadan lanterns—any way you cut it, it is a huge loss.”
Sociology professor, Dr. Hesham Fakhridin, states, “The Chinese invasion of the Egyptian lantern market has had a negative impact on Egyptian culture and heritage. The lantern industry is not your typical industry—it is a custom that began way back in the Fatimid Era. All of the citizens of Cairo came out of their homes to meet Al Moez Eldin Allah Al Fatimi, carrying their lanterns while chanting and singing."