Made in Egypt

Made in Egypt

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These Local Businesses Give Traditional Handicrafts a Contemporary Twist

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Cairo skyline
Experience the city from a different perspective by stepping back and observing the craftsmanship of the people rather than bartering for their products.  PHOTOGRAPH BY SLAWEK KOZDRAS

A guide to Cairo’s craft heritage, following in the footsteps of ancient artisans

The craft workshops of Cairo tell a story going back to the glory days of medieval Islamic art — a side to the capital easy to overlook with the much-delayed Grand Egyptian Museum opening on the horizon.




This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

In Cairo, the pull between culture and commerce is long established. Five thousand years ago, on the fertile banks of the Nile, wealthy Ancient Egyptians commissioned artisans to adorn their tombs for the voyage into the afterlife, crafting funerary pottery, woodwork, amulets and exquisite paintings. Today, souvenir stalls outside many of those same tombs — and in the souks of the capital — still offer designs that take inspiration from those ancient crafts, passed down over the centuries and adapted to sell to visitors.

Shopping can be a rich and revealing complement to exploring the art and archaeology of Ancient Egypt. In the camel-coloured desert at Saqqara, 14 miles south of the city, I circled Egypt’s first pyramid and watched workmen dressed in flowing jellabiyas cart earth from a recently discovered tomb. I saw wall carvings and paintings of crocodiles and Nile fishermen paddling reed boats, like five-millennia-old film footage. I stood in the subterranean tomb of pharaoh Unas, its stone a blur of hieroglyphic incantations for eternal life, its roof fretted with stars. 

And now I find myself in the workshop of Saqqara’s Oriental Carpet School. It wasn’t my idea — is any phrase in Egypt more dispiriting than ‘Now we’ll visit a carpet factory’? But we were passing and my guide, Maher Abu Elkhair, promised it would be interesting.

As workers knot wool and silk threads on looms in one dextrous action, a salesman rattles through the patter: how Saqqara has a tradition of handmade carpets, a craft which flourished in Egypt from the 1400s; how children learn the vocation alongside fathers; how a metre-square is the work of a month. I nod. But I’m not listening: I’ve just seen what’s on one loom. 

Master carpet-maker Adem is weaving five-point stars into a kilim. They look naggingly familiar. A beat later I realise why — they’re exactly the same as those at Unas’s tomb. Was this deliberate, I ask. Adem shrugs: “They asked me to make a carpet with stars. I design with stars.” For one beautiful revelatory moment, the threads of ancient and modern Egypt combine, twisting into a perfect cultural knot. Then the salesman says: “We have more upstairs if you want to buy. Something for the memory…”

Cairo skyline
Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre is in one of Cairo’s oldest districts.PHOTOGRAPH BY SLAWEK KOZDRAS

Later this year, the much-delayed Grand Egyptian Museum is set to open in Giza, on Cairo’s western outskirts. It will house the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities ever assembled: around 140,000 objects. Ancient Egypt’s rock star pharaoh Tutankhamun gets two galleries to himself, uniting all 5,400 artefacts of his tomb for the first time since archaeologist Howard Carter gasped in wonder as he unsealed the door a century ago.

What King Tut’s beaded sandals and gold amulets ultimately showcase is Egyptian craft. It has fascinated Europeans since the Greeks and Romans imported Egyptian gold, ivory and other luxury goods, or Venice struck trade deals with medieval Mamluk sultans for glass and ceramics. Later, Victorian archaeologists gawped in souks. Now it’s my turn. I’ve come to winkle out Cairo’s craft traditions. It’s shopping, but with cultural credentials.

Fustat district doesn’t look like much — it fell into decline as the axis of the city moved north after the 11th century. But it holds some of Christianity’s oldest churches, still serving Egypt’s Coptic community, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation opened here in 2021, showcasing the country’s eras from the pharaohs to the present day. It’s here that Mamdouh Sakr, manager of the Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre, has nurtured crafts in a district once renowned for them.

“For 500 years as the country’s first Islamic capital, Fustat was a very vibrant city because of its Nile port,” he says. “The whole culture of Egypt was exported through here. Excavations have found kilns, glass and ceramics of exceptional quality. The Vatican has more Fatimid-era ceramics than Cairo.”

Cairo skyline
Local artisans work on their projects at the traditional arts centre.PHOTOGRAPH BY SLAWEK KOZDRAS

The crafts centre receives few callers — this is Maher’s first visit here despite decades of guiding — but Mamdouh happily shows me around. Women chat while painting lozenges like teardrops on jugs. A man punches white clay into a mould then peels out a tile of beautiful interlocking stars. Other moulds have webs of hexagons or lotus flowers — all designs from historic Cairene mosques. Because of Islamic traditions that avoided representing living creatures, complex geometry was one art form that came without the risk of straying into idolatry.

Gamal Ahmed Shosha straddles a potter’s wheel. His mother was a potter, and his grandmother and her mother. “I had no choice,” he says, with a grin. Imported white clay is tougher, but soft red clay of Nile silt is better for pottery. “Look,” he says. He presses a metal strip into a spinning bowl. Ribbons of ochre clay spool to the floor. The crude bowl refines into beauty.

The best stuff is in a gallery-shop: flawless marquetry boxes; bead necklaces fit for queens; intricate brass bowls; gypsum panels like cobwebs; and those tiles, now blazing with colour and framed. Such work once decorated the palaces of the elite. It’s part of Egyptian identity, Mamdouh says: “These crafts are unique, like songs and language, and some of the designs are 1,000 years old. But if we don’t support them, it will all be ‘Made in China’.”

The art of the pharaohs is as remote from modern Egypt as the works of ancient Britons are from us. In the absence of a living tradition, it’s all too easy to give way to cheap knock-offs. “We can’t let that happen to Coptic and Islamic art,” says Mamdouh. That’s why the centre, backed by the UK’s Prince’s Foundation, hosts 20 students a year, mostly young women, who train in the old crafts.

Into the souks

Ask Cairo locals about crafts and they’ll point you to Khan el-Khalili souk in the old city. It’s an experience as much as a retail opportunity. If the pyramids conceal their secrets, here all is on show: shisha pipes and silver, telescopes and antique telephones, jewels and junk. You have the sense that, whatever your desire, it lies within these labyrinthine medieval alleys. 

I want to do more than buy, though. I want to meet the makers. On Al Moez Street, amid some of the greatest architecture in medieval Islam, Khaled Mohamed delicately hammers the goddess Isis onto a copper disk outside his shop, Al Moez Silver. Behind him hang plates, their kaleidoscopic engraving seeming to whirl as you look. The 51-year-old learned his trade aged 12 from his father, who learned from his father, who learned from a Cairene artisan, until you’re back in a 14th-century golden age under the Mamluk sultans. “This doesn’t require talent if you know the rules — I’m one percent the artist of my father,” Khaled says. “The secret is to love what you do.”

Money problems since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution have closed his engraving school. Yet Khaled’s main problem is us: “Ninety percent of tourists think my plates are made in a factory. They think I do this for show.” You can see why. His work is pure precision.

Cairo skyline
The best time to visit Khan el-Khalili souk is in the evening, when the streets fill up with local people.PHOTOGRAPH BY SLAWEK KOZDRAS

Al Moez Silver is just the first stop on my crafts treasure hunt through Khan el-Khalili. At the top of narrow stairs in Jordi Passage, I find Achmed Mahmoud soldering gems into a bracelet in a no-name workshop. Bracelets, frames, rings, silver amulets — he’ll hand-produce whatever you want. “I have hundreds of designs,” he says with a wave at shelves of metal weights. He slams one onto paper and its embossed image appears on the sheet — a dove, a template to be hacksawed and polished up within three hours. Such is the skill of a 62-year-old who has worked since he was nine. 

I switch to the adjacent Al Azhar quarter. It’s quieter, more local. Among Arabic pop songs jingling from cafes and women with hillocks of flatbread, I stumble upon shoebox workrooms I’m sure I’ll never find again. I meet Bahan and Hesham gluing minute mother-of-pearl triangles onto wooden boxes. It’s easy to dismiss such souvenir favourites until you learn their traditional history as boxes for dowries, or that mother-of-pearl inlay was an Ancient Egyptian trick to prettify poor wood.

Behind Al Azhar mosque, Mohamed ‘Mimi’ Amin shows me 45 years’ worth of expertise casually lying around his workshop; here a beautiful star lantern for Ramadan and a heart-shaped amulet with turquoise “to prevent jealousy”; there, a lamp with kissing peacocks within a thicket of brass. “That design came from an early Coptic chandelier. I’m not rich but these designs are my capital. They’re historic. They have proven their beauty,” he says. 

Cairo skyline
Mohamed ‘Mimi’ Amin helps keep the craft tradition alive in Al Azhar district, fixing traditional lanterns.PHOTOGRAPH BY SLAWEK KOZDRAS

By Mary Aravanis


Craft making has always been a strong part of Egyptian heritage – from the refined pottery work of the Fayoum province to the intricately woven kilim carpets found all over the country, Egypt’s handicrafts are as culturally rich as they are aesthetically pleasing.

Although there are plenty of local markets scattered all over Egypt in which one can find a wide and diverse array of locally crafted products, it is interesting to note how modern-day Egyptians have taken craft-making to new territories. 

The young contemporary Egyptian population is thriving with entrepreneurial spirit, and this drive to  turn passion into business has caused a number of small local business to keep popping up. Mix this with an innate need to explore the wonders of local craft-making, as well as a feeling of staying connected to one’s roots, and a new contemporary handicrafts culture surfaces. 

Below are a few examples of small local businesses whose products revolve around craft-making and staying true to this wonderful aspect of Egyptian culture. 

Miscellaneous handmade products

Image credit: Pheel Facebook page

With a diverse array of products available – from notebooks to plant pots and even clothing items – Pheel is a wonderful local business that adds a refreshingly contemporary twist to the art of handicrafts.

“Pheel is an experimental design studio that offers diverse, conceptual product collections that are built on beautiful things we see and experience,” states the business’ description on its Facebook page.

The business was started by three Cairo based designers who share an appreciation for handmade products. The eclectic tastes of the three founders shine through the various products they offer, each of which are uniquely designed and made. Their work is colorful, youthful, and usually includes a ton of fun patterns that immediately catch your eye. 

Grain Studio
Handmade notebooks, sketchbooks and planners

Image credit: Grain Facebook page

These beautiful handmade notebooks, sketchbooks and plannersare definitely worth noting as each one is carefully binded into a sleek and minimal piece with a unique earthy aesthetic.

According to their Facebook page, “As a means of preserving the beauty of handcrafts, we, at Grain, explore different handcrafts and, combined with our knowledge in design, create stationary products for you that can be beautiful, have their own unique touch every time and are useful and efficient.”

Noon Designs
Handmade ceramic tableware

Image credit: Noon Designs Facebook page

Inspired by her love of pottery, local product designer Nourane Hassan created Noon Designs in 2015. It is a small tableware design studio in which they hand-make pottery and ceramics based tableware, occasionally also offering custom-made pieces.

According to the official Facebook page, “In our little studio we strive to bring a little piece of thoughtful uniqueness to a world dominated by mass produced soulless copies. Our goal is to design, produce and sell eco-friendly, affordable and most of all beautifully handcrafted hospitality products.”

Noon’s products are beautifully constructed colorful pieces that will surely add vibrancy to your home. This collection of tableware is a true testament to the artistry of pottery-making and the joy it brings to both the maker and the person who will ultimately use it. 

Handmade/woven carpets and pillowcases

Image credit: Kiliim Facebook page

Shining light on the beautiful craftsmanship that goes into weaving kilims (traditional carpets), this local


contemporary business brings this Egyptian tradition back to life with a modern twist. According to their Facebook page, Kiliim is an “Egyptian social enterprise/lifestyle brand that aims to revive & sustain the art of kilim making by introducing modern designs to a time-honored technique.” 

The kilims offered by this brand are wonderfully crafted and include a wide and diverse selection of colors and patterns. Kiliim effortlessly integrates minimal design with a touch of local traditional patterns, marrying past and present in an exciting new way. Their vast collection of carpets and pillowcases pay tribute to a craft worth keeping alive for many generations to come.

Menn Baladha
Handmade pots and tableware

Yet another wonderful local business started by a group of designers, Menn Baladha is a design studio that specializes in handcrafted products that currently mainly revolve around kitchenware. According to their official Facebook page, “[Menn Baladha] is intrigued by the notion of home and what it holds as a space. Named after an Egyptian idiom, Menn Baladha means from where it originated. This is a story of local ingenuity, authenticity, community and conversation.”

Their wonderful clay pots are a testament once again to the artisan craft of pottery making, and their contemporary touch when it comes to the pot’s cover design is nothing short of magnetic. 

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Best Handicraft Cairo: reviews

In category «handicraft» found 12 companies with reviews and contacts, top 20:

1. Souq el Fustat – Cairo Governorate 4244010
 18 reviews

Encouraging Egyptian handicrafts was the goal of establishing this market. It is bordered by churches and mosques that date back thousands of years…

2. Markaz Maadi – 1b Street 199, Maadi as Sarayat Al Gharbeyah, Maadi, Cairo Governorate 4213003
 4 reviews

A Great place for real authentic Egyptian crafts. A lot of gifts ideas especially for foreigners and expats.

3. Fair Trade Egypt – 12 Street 205, Maadi as Sarayat Al Gharbeyah, Maadi, Cairo Governorate
 12 reviews

هي منظمةتابعة لليونسكو وتهدف الي نشر العدالة وتمكين المرأة وتشجيع الصناعات الصغيرة والمشروعات الصغيرة وبيع البضائع بأسعار مناسبة للجميع وبخامات محلية…

4. Konoz Yadaweya – 61 b Misr Helwan Agriculture Rd, Maadi Al Khabiri Al Wasti, Maadi, Cairo Governorate 4211140
 7 reviews

Great little shop. Good products. But overall a great initiative. And a great back story. Helping the local communities and disappearing arts

5. Khoos – خوص – 3 Tohama, Al Hay as Sabea, Nasr City, Cairo Governorate 4432051
 5 reviews

به تشكيله جميلة من منتجات الخوص تناسب كل الاذواق فى الموضة والديكورات المنزليه

6. Belaraby – Eshak Yaekoob, Almazah, Heliopolis, Cairo Governorate
 1 review

The best shop of Egyptian handcrafts with high quality

7. Arto Gallery – 5 Baghdad St, Korba, Heliopolis, Cairo Governorate 11341
 3 reviews

Wonderful Gallery, a large collection of Oil paintings and frames, statues and unique gifts

8. Fair Trade Egypt Heliopolis – 25 Ibrahim Salem, Al Golf, Nasr City, Cairo Governorate
 6 reviews

من اجمل الاماكن اللي بقدر اجيب منها هدايا لاي حد ولأي مناسبه غير اني يبقي عارفه اني بساعد ناس كتير اوي من اللي بيشقوا عشان يطلعولي المنتج ده و طبعا…

9. Bedouin Market – 15 Rd. 231, Maadi as Sarayat Al Gharbeyah, Maadi, Cairo Governorate 4213052
 3 reviews

They sell a variety of antiques from Egypt and other regional countries, in addition to some local handcrafts. No price stickers so you need to inquire…

10. مركز صيانه – زهراء المعادى, Cairo – Sweis Rd, Cairo Governorate
 1 review

رقم تليفون خدمة العملاء 16001 صيانة غسالات ثلاجات تكيفات 16001

11. Handicrafts in Egypt – 15 Al Adib Ali Adham, Sheraton Al Matar, El Nozha, Cairo Governorate 4471138
 1 review

The perfect place to enjoy art and all type of crafts, a quiet and peaceful place.

12. اصلاح سخانات الغاز – Al Manteqah Ath Thamenah, Nasr City, Cairo Governorate
 1 review

عن تجربه دقه في المواعيد وإنجاز العمل وأجر القطع وأجر التركيب معقول شكرا بشمهندس رضاء

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Renovation of the Iconic Maghagha Post Office Breathes Life Into a Once-Dilapidated Structure

In 2023, Egypt’s economy has been adversely impacted by the overlapping global shocks as well as domestic supply bottlenecks, with growth declining to 4.2 percent during FY23 (July 2022—June 2023) from 6.6 percent a year earlier 1However, the country is expected to continue to push ahead with stabilization and structural reforms, including enhanced trade policy and facilitation, effective implementation of the State Ownership Policy, fostering competition, strengthened governance and rule of law, as well as improvements in the broader business environment 1.
Egypt’s manufacturing sector has been growing steadily, with the country’s exports of manufactured goods increasing by 10.5% in 2022 1The country’s engineering design industry has also been expanding, with a growing number of companies offering services in areas such as product design, prototyping, and testing 1.
Egypt’s food industry is another area that has been seeing growth in recent years. The country has a rich culinary heritage, and its food industry has been expanding to meet the growing demand for high-quality food products both domestically and internationally 2.
Overall, Egypt’s manufacturing sector is poised for growth in the coming years, with the government taking steps to improve the business environment and attract foreign investment 1.
I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions. 😊

 It is a way to promote Egyptian products and support local businesses. Handicrafts are a significant part of Egypt’s cultural heritage, and there are many places in Cairo where you can learn about traditional handicrafts such as sewing, embroidery, fashion design, decoration, manufacturing leather products, painting, Arabic calligraphy, engraving on wood and glass, creating aromatic and decorative candles, and much more 1Additionally, there are exhibitions such as Al-Bazaar that showcase handcrafted home decorations, food, accessories, and clothes that promote the slogan “Made in Egypt” 2. As for engineering design, there are many engineering firms in Egypt that specialize in various fields such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and more. Finally, Egypt is known for its delicious cuisine, which includes dishes such as koshari, ful medames, and taameya 3. I hope this helps!Details


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