Egyptian villagers struggle to keep art of papyrus-making viable

AL-QARAMOUS, Egypt (Reuters) — A village keeping the ancient Egyptian craft of papyrus-making alive has seen demand for the paper collapse after the novel coronavirus pandemic brought Egypt’s foreign tourism sector to a near standstill.

Papyrus, used as a writing surface by the ancient Egyptians, is the main livelihood for residents of the Nile Delta village of Al-Qaramous.

“If there is tourism, there is a price for the papyrus,” said Abdul Rahman Mostafa, a 47-year-old farmland and papyrus workshop owner. “Because there is no tourism, we have to stop producing.”

The paper is made by cutting strips from the stalk of the papyrus plant, pressing them together, and drying them to form a smooth, flat sheet.

Many of the residents of Al-Qaramous, about 80km (50 miles) northeast of Cairo, are involved in farming, processing and decorating papyrus with Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs or images of pharaohs before it is sold in tourist spots on the Red Sea or in Cairo.

“The selling price of paper is less than the cost of making it,” said Wagdy Mohamed, a 33-year-old owner of a workshop where papyrus sheets are decorated.

“If this goes on, the product will disappear completely. We pray to God that things get better, and we look forward to next season,” he said.

Egypt has confirmed about 50,000 cases of the new coronavirus and the number of reported cases has continued to rise in recent weeks as the government eased restrictions on movement and allowed some hotels to reopen at limited capacity.

International flights to the main Red Sea tourist resorts are due to restart on July 1.


Reporting by Amr Dalsh; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Alexandra Hudson

Image: Mohamed Abdul Rahman, 18, son of a papyrus farmlands and workshops owner checks sheets if the papyrus is dry at a workshop in al-Qaramous village, amid COVID-19 concerns in Sharqiya Governorate, north of Cairo, Egypt June 13, 2020. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

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