As Ramadan approaches, Egyptian neighbourhoods are filled with Ramadan lanterns, beautiful lights of different shapes and colours.
Among the more eye-catching lanterns are themes that appeal to children like the Smurfs, Spongebob and tank designs, along with others bearing the image of President Mohamed Morsi.
Hassan Ibrahim, a Chamber of Commerce official who supervises toy store imports, said most lanterns are imported from China where manufacturers have kept pace with the Egyptian market.
Ibrahim said, however, that "The import of lanterns for this year is relatively lower."
The market share for Ramadan lanterns is an estimated 60 million Egyptian pounds ($10 million), he said.
"It is difficult to monitor the quantities and financial value of lanterns because they are categorised as children's toys," Ibrahim said.
In 2011 China manufactured lanterns that were in line with the situation at the time, so it exported tank-lanterns carrying an army theme, while others had revolutionary symbols.
Yet with this year's uncertain political landscape, it was difficult to design lanterns that appropriately reflected current events.
Ibrahim made a distinction between imported lanterns and domestic productions.
"Chinese lanterns are suitable for children just like toys", he said. They do not "in any way compete with the traditional wooden or metal Egyptian made lantern".
"[The Egyptian] lantern has preserved its traditional form, and its manufacture has become an innovative craft with beautiful geometric shapes that include multi-coloured squares, triangles and glass, and lanterns made with wood and cardboard," said Mohammed Arafa, a history professor.
He said Egypt's traditional lantern industry is in Cairo's Fatimid quarters such as Darb al-Ahmar, Berkit al-Fil, Sayyida Zaynab and al-Ghouriya near the al-Azhar Mosque.
China started manufacturing lanterns in the 90s and eventually dominated the market, he said. Toys adorned with lights were inaccurately called lanterns, many of which appealed to children who asked their parents to buy them.
Shakir Shaheen, whose family owns a workshop for manufacturing lanterns in Old Cairo, said that work continues throughout the year. While he has been coming to the souk area in downtown Cairo prior to Ramadan for 20 years to sell his family's products, his two brothers have been doing the same in the Muhandeseen District and Nasr City.
"This year's sales are relatively better than last year's, as Egyptians cannot forgo buying a Ramadan lantern because it is part of their subconscious," he said.
"In the past, everyone would head to the old city neighbourhoods to buy lanterns," Shaheen added. "Today, with an abundance of vendors, we have to go out and sell our products."
He said prices this year range between five pounds (about .80 cents US) to 1,000 pounds ($165.00), according to size and shape.
"My customers are from all ages and backgrounds," he said. "Children prefer the latest cartoon characters such as the Smurfs and SpongeBob, while parents prefer the traditional models that are usually hung on balconies or at entrances to buildings."
"As for larger lanterns that are made of tin or copper, they are chosen by owners of villas, larger houses, restaurants and hotels," Shaheen said,
He added that there are other remarkable varieties, such as some made of marble and others imprinted with Morsi's name.
He said the fastest selling lanterns cost about 15 pounds ($2.50), which include ones that do not move and have no sound. Some higher priced lanterns play famous Ramadan songs, such as "Haloo ya haloo, Ramadan karim ya haloo" and "Ahlan Ramadan".
Many vendors sell Chinese lanterns because of a high demand among children, he said.
"The manufacturing of lanterns is a national heritage that should be preserved and revived by providing support," Shaheen said.
"Egypt used to export lanterns to all other Arab countries, the United States and Canada because they are of high quality and 100% handmade," he said.
"Because of competition and poor economic conditions, local manufacturing has decreased, bringing down exports."