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Egyptian, Chinese lanterns compete in Ramadan
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08:42, August 24, 2009

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Surrounded with hundreds of shining Egyptian and Chinese lanterns at a local market in Maadi, south of the timeless city of Cairo, sat Abu Mustafa, the shop owner, who was waiting for customers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

"From Ramadan to Ramadan every year we bring all possible types of decorated lanterns so as to satisfy our customers who trusted this shop for more than thirty years," said Abu Mustafa.

"This year most people would prefer the Chinese lanterns because they are very modern and most children like them. However, some people still like Egyptian lanterns for its distinctive shape," added Abu Mustafa.

Reda, a lantern shopper, said that he comes to this shop every Ramadan to find two suitable lanterns for his children.

"The price of a medium-sized Ramadan lantern which is made in China suits me, that's why I prefer the Chinese lantern," said Reda.

"This Ramadan, I paid 35 Egyptian pounds (about 6.4 U.S. dollars) for a Chinese lantern and this is a very good price," He said, adding that the quality of the lantern is also excellent considering its relatively low price.

However, Ahmed, another shopper, said that he prefers Egyptian lantern even if it is not modern enough, because it reflects Egypt's tradition.

"I bought a lantern called Corompo which is an imitation of an Egyptian cartoon character loved by most Egyptian children and it cost me 45 Egyptian pounds (about 8.2 U.S. dollars). It is not very expensive," said Ahmed.

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, started on Saturday in Egypt and in most Muslim and Arab countries. During this month, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until dusk.

Ramadan is not only the month of fasting but it also witnesses many special celebrations, including the Ramadan lanterns for young children in Egypt.

Fanoos (the Arabic word for lantern) was first used during the Fatimid era (909-1171 A.D.) and it is similar to the lamp. It has been developed greatly in the past centuries with various shapes.

"Several days before Ramadan, children would become excited and asked for a lantern. They wanted to start singing and swinging the lantern for the coming of the fasting month," Ahmed said.

Abu Mustafa confirmed that this year the Chinese lanterns have more customers than the traditional Egyptian ones.

Egypt's traditional handmade lanterns are made of metal and brightly colored glass, a handicraft passed from generation to generation. They are powered by real candles.

On the other hand, Chinese lanterns are made of plastic and powered by battery and their prices are lower than locally made counterparts.

"Traditional lanterns now face challenges from battery-powered lanterns made in China, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most people think that Chinese lanterns are safer and also cheaper," said Abu Mustafa.

According to him, Chinese lanterns are mainly for home use but those who prefer the traditional Egyptian lanterns need them for public use in streets or hotels or large stores.

However, fun is not the only reason behind the salability of Chinese lanterns. Safety is believed to be another important reason.

Ibrahim, another lantern shopper, said "of course I prefer Chinese lanterns. Egyptian lanterns are no longer suitable for children because the candles inside and metal outside may hurt them. Chinese lanterns, however, are lit by batteries and made of plastic. They are safer for children."

Despite the sizzling competition, for now it appears the Egyptian Ramadan lantern market is big enough for both the traditional and the new ones, whether they are made in China or Egypt or elsewhere.

Traditional Egyptian lanterns still have loyal customers, and can be seen at the entrances of restaurants, hotels and other stores throughout Ramadan.

An Egyptian lantern merchant at the market said, "Egyptian lanterns enjoy much popularity not only in the Egyptian market. I export some Egyptian lanterns to clients in Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. I also have a client in New York for 14years."

Source: Xinhua

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