Egypt’s Ramadan still has a Chinese flavour

An April decree bans importing imitations of traditional Egyptian handicrafts, including Ramadan lanterns. But is it enough to revive local handicraft businesses?

Lamia Hassan, Tuesday 9 Jun 2015 (Ahram Online)

unnamed2Islamic Cairo’s Khan El Khalili market is crammed with shoppers buying the goods they need for the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. From its entrance on Azhar Street to its smallest alley, the neighbourhood is brimming with people, mostly locals, examining the products displayed in shops and on the side of the street.

As Ramadan approaches, the season’s colourful lanterns have just made a comeback around the market, starting from the tiny LE 5 lanterns to the bigger ones selling for hundreds of Egyptian pounds.

Known to be the hallmark of unique Egyptian products, Khan El Khalili and its surrounding streets have long bustled with shoppers from all over Egypt and the rest of the world. With its handmade copper plates, cushions, clothes, alabaster, jewelry, lanterns and even chandeliers, Khan El Khalili caters to all different tastes.

But, while the products cramming the market have remained the same for years, their origin has recently changed.

Especially when it comes to Ramadan lanterns, Pharaonic-themed souvenirs and jewelry, cheaper Chinese imports now outweigh local products.

“People used to come from all over to buy the finest goods made by Egyptians, but then the cheap [imported] products took over the market,” says Hassan Mohamed, the owner of a small workshop in El Darb El Ahmar that makes engraved copper plates.

Chinese products started appearing in the market 10 to 12 years ago, says Amr Abdallah from Awlad Ezzat (Ezzat’s Sons), one of the big lantern shops on Al Azhar Street.

“Chinese products weren’t very popular when they first appeared, but over the years more shops started importing and replacing their local products,” says Abdallah.

When the Chinese Ramadan lanterns became popular, Abdallah himself started importing them, he says.

But five or seven years ago, he changed his mind.

“I decided that it was time to stop buying imported lanterns and to support local business,” he says.

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Ban on imported imitations

Amid concerns about foreign imports putting local craftsmen out of busines, Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry Moneer Fakhry Abdel Nour in April announced an import ban on all imitations of Egypt’s traditional handicrafts, as a move to protect Egyptian identity and intellectual property rights.

The ban comes as an application of Article 20 of the 1994 international General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which gives any country the right to take the necessary measures to protect its “national treasures of artistic, historic or archaeological value.”

“It’s our right to protect our intellectual property and our identity and to take the necessary measures to do so, and all the countries do the same,” says Yasser Gaber Shaker, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s spokesperson.

The ban includes Ramadan lanterns and Pharaonic-themed souvenirs such as papyrus.

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But it remains unclear to what extent the ban will help to revive local handicraft production and sales.

While the ministry says the decree has already been implemented, some vendors claim that they have not yet seen a clear document detailing its terms. Most salesmen have already placed their orders for the season, they add.

Ministry spokesperson Shaker however claims that importers have spread a rumour that the ban has been postponed so that they can continue to sell their imported products.

Preserving crafts from the past

Not far away from Khan El Khalili and Al Azhar, Taht El-Raba’a, the production house behind many of the market’s lantern shops, is all geared up for Ramadan.

Unlike the other shop owners, Abdel Aziz Hashim hangs only the old-fashioned tinted glass lanterns outside his shop.

“For me, these are the only lanterns I know,” he explains. “Everything else they added or brought in from China has nothing to do with Ramadan.”

But over the last decade, plastic lanterns from China have flooded the Egypt market.

“Try asking kids who are born in the past 10 years about the traditional lanterns,” echoes Salama Hanafy, whose family has run a lantern making business from a tiny room in the neighbourhood for over 50 years. “They will know nothing about them.”

Although both Hashim and Hanafy welcome the new ban, they say that its implementation will be difficult.

Importers might already have enough imported goods in storage for the next year or even two, says Hashim.

And traditional lanterns will remain more expensive due to a rise in the cost of the materials needed to make them, says Hanafy: “We used to buy the glass for the lanterns for LE0.60 a kilo, but now it’s LE 3, which will definitely increase the cost of a lantern.”

Emphasising quality

But Hisham Raslan, another Khan El Khalili shop owner, relates the recent shift to Chinese products to a decline in the quality and creativity of local work.

“One of the reasons we have always depended on local handicrafts is for their quality, but when this started deteriorating and the Chinese manufacturers started to coming up with ideas for new products, we started to depend heavily on Chinese products,” he says.

Raslan, who is against the ban on imports, says that the products imported from China are different to those produced locally.

For example, Chinese manufacturers have innovated with pens covered with images of Pharoahs, Pyramids and Ancient Egyptian statues, he says.

The new decree is a positive step in the right direction, but more efforts are needed to revive local handicraft industries, says anthropologist Nawal El Messiri, who has worked on reviving local traditional craft industries for years at the Egyptian Folk Traditions Society.

The government and concerned organisations should raise awareness among manufacturers on the importance of quality for business growth, she says.

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“When manufacturers understand that people will stop buying their lanterns if they continue to make them with sharp edges or in poor quality, they automatically put more effort into what they make,” says El Messiri.

When tinsel embroidery from Upper Egypt was in danger of disappearing, her organisation helped to train local youth to master the technique and managed to sell their products outside Egypt, she says.

Beyond traditional handicrafts and Ramadan items, the government could also help to protect other local craft industries from foreign competition, she adds.

“Some of the best local furniture comes from Damietta, but many similar items are also imported,” she says. “There should be bans on all of these.”

For his part, Shaker stresses that the trade ministry supports local craft businesses with more than just the April ban on imports.

“We are working with 39 small and medium industries in 17 governorates across Egypt to help them develop their business and up their standards to revive the local industries,” he says.

As Ramadan approaches, Hashim says he wishes to one day see all shops only selling local tinted glass lanterns like his, although this is unlikely to be soon.

“We have been wishing for a decree like this for years, and it’s about time we use our dollar reserves to buy only the essential items that we cannot produce, and instead depend heavily on local businesses,” he says.

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Hanging by a Thread

photo credit: Première Vision (website)

Liberalization unravels one of Egypt’s prized local industries

(Business Today Egypt, April 2010)

The showroom of El-Hosseiny textiles in the Delta town of Salmone El-Omash is one large open space.

The walls are lined with sun-bleached mannequins, their features covered in a thick layer of dust. The room is packed with overflowing boxes of brightly colored garments, leftovers from last season.

And there isn’t a customer in sight, despite the fact that it’s past noon and El-Hosseiny is one of the few stores open in Salmone, long-renowned as the country’s premier locale to buy wool clothes.

“The place never used to be like this. It used to be packed with people all the time, and we used to make LE 3,000–4,000 in profit per day,” says Ahmed El-Hosseiny, who runs the store and a textile factory in neighboring Mansoura.

“But every year it gets worse. One day we make LE 50, and another day we make nothing.”

At this time of year El-Hosseiny, like many of Salmone’s other 40,000 residents, should be brainstorming new ideas for the coming season. But with last year’s clothes gathering dust, producing a new line is more than futile — it’s a guaranteed loss.

In 2008, Salmone’s factory owners sold roughly 50% of their manufacturing quota. In 2009, that number dropped to 25%.

Salmone El-Omash was once a major hub of textile production and clothes making. Part of its name, El-Omash, literally translates to textiles. But in recent years the town’s roughly 1,500 workshops and 25 stores have seen business collapse. A lethal combination of the financial crisis, deregulation and an influx of inexpensive imports, especially from China, have leveled the local economy. And just as Hosseiny exemplifies what is happening in his village, Salmone is a microcosm of broader changes taking place throughout the country.

Homespun Industry

Villages usually evoke visions of a simple agrarian life. But Salmone turned that image on its head. For nearly 70 years, residents have been making textiles. Homespun wool workshops predated electricity in the region, and as technology was introduced, manufacturing kept pace. What began in homes evolved into workshops and factories; what sustained a region then supplied a nation.

The residents of what was once known as “Mini Japan” established an industrious reputation. In 1986, President Hosni Mubarak highlighted their contribution to the national economy with a visit to the town.

But today, the spirit is gone. “We don’t wake up before 5pm each day. We all just stay up trying to do anything that would make the night pass, then sleep all day,” says workshop owner Hassan Shafie.

Historically, production season in Salmone spanned 10 months — these days it’s lucky to last four. The inability to turn profits predictably led to decreased wages and large scale layoffs. In a local economy based around a single industry, failure also has social ramifications. Workers have abandoned the village, and desperation has fueled a rising tide of criminal activity and increased tension among neighbors.

“The thefts that are occurring now come from the village residents stealing things from each other,” says El-Hosseiny.

Free Fall

Through much of the 1990S, textile imports were banned by the Egyptian government, which allowed local manufacturers to thrive.

But in search of growth, Egypt joined the World Trade Organization in 1995, setting it on a path of market liberalization.

A series of cuts in tariffs during the last decade leveled the playing field for foreign manufacturers, and by 2007 imports were surging.

At the head of the pack were Chinese manufacturers, who “showered the market with their cheap products,” says Mostafa El-Samouly, the owner of a textile factory in Mahalla and a member of a key industry association.

Even when Salmone manufacturers switched to inexpensive fabrics like acrylic, they could not match the prices of imports.

“In China, they have subsidized fabrics, factories and everything they need to be very productive,” says Mo’awad El-Shafihe, who owns a Salmone plant. “Everything for us is overpriced; taxes are high and we have to pay a lot for water and electricity. I started selling the pieces that were worth LE 26 for only LE 13, and people are still not happy with the prices.”

Factory owners also face high import and port tariffs on foreign-made fabrics.

The combination of those factors has industry players worried that they will never be able to make up the gap with foreign manufacturers.

“Today everything in our life is Chinese and they will keep expanding everywhere until one day […] there won’t be anyone else to compete against them,” says Ahmed Sakr, a Salmone native who has a business in Cairo.

While Salmone and other industrial regions were reeling from a market saturated by international competition, the economic crisis may have put the final nail in the coffin. According to Dr. Amirah El-Haddad, an economics professor at Cairo University, textile production has dropped 25% since fall 2008.

Losing the domestic sales battle in the short term does not always spell the end of an industry. The export market, where Egypt had found success in the past, offered the potential to compensate for losses.

But the lowering of international trade barriers in the middle part of this decade put the country in direct competition with textile powerhouses like China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. (In early 2005, just after one major trade barrier was dropped, exports from China and the US doubled.)

Developed countries with highly efficient production facilities made gains in the international marketplace, leaving many Egyptian firms out in the cold.

Dusty Workrooms

The textile sector, which employs about 25% of Egyptian workers, has suffered the brunt of liberalization. But it is not the only domestic industry reeling from Cairo’s embrace of the free market. Former stalwarts like cotton, marble, and auto production have also experienced difficulty adjusting to global competition.

“Unemployment is a huge disaster now in Egypt that should be solved immediately, before it gets even worse,” says El-Samouly. With the government focusing on other aspects of economic recovery — the vast majority of its stimulus dollars have gone towards infrastructure — the textile industry, and the people of Salmone, will likely have to weather the storm on their own.

While business is bad, El-Haddad says a sector-wide recovery is possible

“After the crisis recedes, things are expected to get better,” she says. “If [manufacturers] hang in there for a year or two, they may be able to revive their business.”

Despite the challenges, some Salmone residents remain optimistic.

“We are capable of doing anything that the market requires,” says El-Shafie, the factory owner. “We just need chances. We need fair prices for the fabrics we are using. We need export markets to open. [Then] we will be able to revive the industry.”

Inside the small workshop he shares with brothers Abdo and Mohamed, El-Shafie stares at the floor. Colored threads, half unspooled, spill into a corner and mix with spider webs. Cloth has been left on the machines, and the dust is thick enough to taste. No one has entered the space for at least a month.

“The village is dying and no one cares,” says Mo’awad El-Shafihe. bt

Opening Soon?

The local movie industry is in a major slump and it could be years before it gets back on its feet again. By Lamia Hassan

of the 2010 Egyptian summer movies

 

(Business Today Egypt Magazine, November 2010)

Every year during Eid El- Fitr, Ibrahim Said and his wife Hoda Kamal take their three children to the movies. For most of the last decade and a half, they have been going to the Miami theatre in downtown Cairo, where massive banners outside the theater entrance usually advertise scores of top-flight Arabic-language movies.

But this Eid was different. There were only four locally-made films playing, none of which were in the running to win any awards.

“This Eid […] none of the movies are a good value,” says Said. “It’s not like in the past when people waited for the holiday season to see good, new Arabic movies.”

Miami is not the only Cairo movie theatre to face a shortage of local films. At the Galaxy theatre in El Manial, eight of

the nine movies showing at the end of September were in English. This marked the first Eid in recent memory where Arabic films took second billing.

Producers, actors and other film industry insiders say this is emblematic of a larger decline in local movie making. They blame the falloff on increasingly close ties between major studios and theaters, which have edged out smaller production houses, the global economic crisis and a short summer season punctuated by the World Cup and Ramadan. Some believe it could be years before the industry is back on its feet.

“The movie production business has been declining recently, and will continue to decline going forward,” says producer Gamal Al-Adl of Al-Adl Group. “This past summer season witnessed the success of only a couple movies, while all the others were failures.”

For years, the summer and the two Eid seasons coincided with the release of new Arabic movies. Between 2006 and 2008, the Egyptian cinema industry was booming; in 2008, over 50 films were produced, 41 of which made it to theaters. But in 2009, that number dropped into the 30s before bottoming out in 2010 with just 16 Egyptian films released through Eid El-Fitr.

Al-Adl says the main reason behind the recent drop is a fundamental shift in the way movies are released. In the past, production companies, distributors and theaters were separate entities. But now, several large companies own and control all three layers, squeezing smaller filmmakers out of the game.

“The market is dropping because these production companies are monopolizing the market and giving their movies better distribution, leaving out the other movies,” says Al-Adl.

Meanwhile, producers planning to release their movies this summer held back out of fear that a season shortened by Ramadan and the World Cup would diminish their chances of success at the box office. Some have postponed releases until Eid Al-Adha, when people traditionally have more time to see movies. Those films include Ahmed El-Sakka’s Ebn El Qonsol (The Son of the Consul), Adel Emam’s Alzheimer and Karim Abdel Aziz’s Faswel Wa Nowasel (A Break and We Get Back).

Broader economic trends have also taken their toll on the country’s film industry.

“Right before the economic crisis, the cinema industry in Egypt was booming. The revenues of the movies were doubling as compared to years before that, but the crisis came and brought everything down,” says Adel Adeeb, CEO of Good News production company.

Miami Cinema, one of Downtown Cairo's busiest cinemas (photo credit: Panoramio)

About 80% of a locally-produced film’s revenue comes from Gulf countries, which were hit especially hard by the downturn.

At the beginning of the 2009 summer season, revenues for the film industry were down 30% year-on-year. By the middle of the season they had dropped 50% and by the end they had plummeted 70%.

But while filmmakers blame things like piracy and the short seasons on the decline of the movie business, audiences place responsibility on studios which they say produce lackluster movies. “Most of the movies that I have seen at the movie

theatres recently are chick-flicks, and even those that are not have repeated plot lines and lack quality,” says Engy El-  Etreby, a frequent moviegoer. “Out of 10 Arabic movies that I have seen recently, I can only say that maybe one or two were good.”

Throughout its history, the Egyptian cinema industry has had its share of peaks and valleys. It flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, a time known as the “Golden Age” of Arab film, sagged in the 1960s, entered a transitional period in the 1970s and eventually picked up again in the mid-90s.

But local cinema’s current stagnation doesn’t spell the final chapter of Egyptian filmmaking. Adeeb sees the industry recovering a few years down the line. While some filmmakers are looking towards Eid releases this month for signs of a slight improvement, El-Adl is skeptical that the few movies that do come out will make a difference.

“The three or four movies that will be released will not really make a difference and the market will still be left without good movies,” says El-Adl.

“But the producers who are monopolizing the business are like supermarket vendors. They will soon realize they are out of quality produce and they’ll have to start looking for solid products again.” bt

MENA’s Hollywood?

With nation’s first private studio, film company hopes to entice foreign movies makers back to Egypt By Lamia Hassan

Screenshot- Yacoubian Building

(Business Today Egypt Magazine, November 2009)

  The upcoming blockbuster about the builder of modern Egypt, Mohamed Ali, was originally scheduled to shoot both here and in Syria.

But with production costs at Egypt’s state-owned film lots running almost double those of Syria, the maker of the LE 50 million film, Good News Company, moved shooting out of Egypt.

The decision was perhaps the ultimate condemnation of Egypt’s bureaucratized state-run studios — and it was far from the only one. Since the golden era of Egypt’s film industry in the 1970s, foreign and domestic filmmakers alike have been steering  clear of the increasingly costly local scene.

It is a situation that Good News hopes to change through the creation of the country’s first private studio.

Good News, which was behind hits like the Yacoubian Building, Haleem and Ibrahim El-Abyad, is planning to build 14 studios in Sixth of October City, with the first phase of construction slated for January 2010.

The plan represents the culmination of a two-year struggle for Good News CEO Adel Adeeb. For decades, the Egyptian government had denied applications by private companies to build film lots. At the same time, rates at the country’s handful of state-run studios were steadily rising.

Adeeb discovered, though, that there was no legal basis for the rejections.

“I found out that this had been just a custom and not law. I kept after it daily for two whole years. [I was hoping to] to change the situation for the benefit of the cinema industry,” he says.

Good News eventually got the sign-off from Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni,

Baby Doll Night movie poster

Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieldin and Minister of Information Anas El-Fiqqi, allowing the company to begin the LE 35 million first phase of the studios.

With the ministerial go-aheads, as well as approval from the Egyptian Cinema Chamber, Good News got busy. In August, the company signed a deal with ARRI Group, the world’s largest camera manufacturer, during a press conference in Cairo.

ARRI will work as consultants for Good News, supplying camera equipment, training local staff, maintaining and upgrading gear and consulting on studio construction.

“I want our studios to provide better special effects, more space to be creative and technology that will save you time. This is the added value that we will be providing to the market,” says Adeeb.

Bringing Back Business

Once renowned as an international shooting location due to both its scenery and studios, Egypt as a filmmaking destination has been in decline since its peak in the mid 70s, when it was nicknamed the “Hollywood of the Middle East.”

Adeeb says his main goal for the new studios — which will be filled with digital equipment — is to lure international filmmakers back to Egypt. For years they have favored locations such as Malta and Syria.

“They will be saving almost 50% because the cost of using digital equipment is much cheaper than normal equipment,” says Adeeb. He also says that cheaper Egyptian currency will reduce costs for filmmakers.

Adeeb’s cost savings received a boost early this year with the government’s decision to exempt filming equipment from customs duties. The decision will ensure that international and domestic filmmakers can use the latest technology here.

But luring international films back to Egypt is not just about costs and technology; Egypt’s infamous bureaucracy represents another major hurdle.

When foreign companies shoot in Egypt, they have difficulty getting permission to film at historic locations, waste time waiting for the censorship bureau to approve scripts, and sometimes get harassed by police when filming on the streets, says Adeeb. “Even when the police cooperate with us while shooting on the streets, people keep on harassing us [wanting] to appear in the movie, or make noise to ruin the shot.”

According to Adeeb, local filmmakers pay LE 10,000 per hour to shoot at a site with antiquities, “and the hour does not start from the moment we start shooting, but it starts from the moment we enter the site.” Foreigners are charged around double, he says, claiming that prices in nearby Syria are around half of those here. “When I asked there [in Syria], while shooting Leilet El Baby Doll [Baby Dolly Night], for battle tanks, they charged me $20 per day for each, with ammunition. Can you believe that?” he asks incredulously.

During a series of March meetings between the Egyptian Cinema Chamber, producers and heads of artistic syndicates, Moneeb Shafie, head of the chamber, discussed ways to draw filmmakers here.Shafie listed three major steps that need to be taken: decrease custom charges, speed up censorship bureau script approval — it currently takes 30 days — and reduce prices at shooting locations.

Change is slowly taking place, as the decision to remove customs on equipment is showing results.

One notable success was the filming of sections of Transformers II — one of Hollywood’s biggest hits this year, earning $200 million in its first five days — at the Pyramids, in Luxor at the Valley of the Kings and at the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) studios.

“It was generally a very enjoyable experience but there are things that definitely could be improved,” says Ilt Jones, the film’s location manager, of shooting here.

European filmmakers, with lower budgets than their American counterparts, are also being encouraged to come back. “We shot part of a feature film in Egypt, mostly at EMPC last summer, and our experience was positive,” says producer Roy Anderson of the Norway’s Nordisk Film. “The production went smoothly because Egypt has a very talented crew regarding the film industry.”

He called the venture “cost effective” and the location convenient. “I would like to film in Egypt again if the possibility presents itself in the future.”

Good News hopes its cutting edge technology and professional expertise, along with state-backed legislative changes, will usher in a new golden era for the Egypt’s cinema industry.

Already, the reviews have been good.

“Good News provides great facilities, offering a great potential for the film industry,” says director Marwan Hamed, who worked with Good News on The Yacoubian Building. “It should make it easier for production companies around the world to come shoot here.” bt

Who Are the Sufis?

Considered more mystical than political, Sufis have enjoyed relatively little harassment from the authorities By Lamia Hassan

photo credit: Islammemo

(Egypt Today Magazine, May 2011)

Sufis, more often than not, are not media-savvy, and they keep away from the limelight, giving

the impression that there aren’t many of them in Egypt. However, Sufis do have a strong presence; in fact, unofficial reports put the number of Sufi adherents across the country at 10 million.

Although it is said that Sufism first appeared during the ninth century in Iraq, Sufis usually trace their origins and roots to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who they consider to be their first sheikh. The 11th-century Persian Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and the 13th-century Mawlana Jalaludin Rumi, from what is now Tajikistan, were among the early popular Sufi thinkers. Another revered scholar is the 14th-century Shah Naqshband Muhammad Bahauddin Uways al-Bukhari from what is now Uzbekistan and for whom the Al Naqshabandi order is named.

Sufism first became popular in Egypt following the 1952 Revolution and during the rule of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

 

Beliefs

 

Unlike other movements or religious sects, Sufism is more about philosophical or spiritual thinking than it is about dogma or political practice for instance. Sufism involves self discipline, above all, and regulating day-to-day behavior in an attempt to submit to God in preparation for the day when the soul meets Him.

Over 70 schools of thought and religious orders fall under the umbrella of Sufism in Egypt, but many of those orders originated outside of Egypt.

There aren’t any constraints or rules for people to become Sufi; anyone can become a Sufi, choosing the school of thought or sheikh they would like to follow under that umbrella.

Unlike Salafis, Sufi Egyptians have one sheikh leading the group — Sheikh Al- Toroq Al-Sufiya or the Sheikh of the Sufi orders, appointed by the Egyptian president — under which all the different Sufi schools fall. In practice, Sufis seek divine truth and love through ‘direct encounters’ with God, as shown in their prayers and the way they address Him. The origin of the name itself might not be very clear to the followers. Some believe it is derived from the Arabic word suuf (wool), since some of the early adherents used to wear worn-out wool, a harsh fabric that was meant to symbolize their disinterest in the material world.

Sufis achieve a mystical state of mind when performing their rituals. They are very famous for zikr, a ceremony that involves repetitive prayers coupled with certain movements aimed to be an act of remembrance of God.

Sufis visit shrines regularly and celebrate mulids (religious festivals) honoring the birth and death days of revered sheikhs or thinkers at mosques housing their shrines. The city of Tanta is famous for the popular Al Sayed Al-Badawi, while Alexandria has numerous shrines and a concentration of Sufi adherents as well.

Sufis are not confrontational in nature and have not been perceived as a political threat over the years.

 

Role in Post-Mubarak Egypt

 

Sufis are one of the few sects that did not have negative encounters with former President Hosni Mubarak’s government.

Although apolitical during the Mubarak era, Sufis have made a more open appearance in the public sphere post-revolution and for once showed their anger at the destruction of several Alexandrian Sufi shrines, allegedly by Salafis. So far, however, they have not shown significant interest in politics. et

 

Who Are the Salafis?

A look at the school of thought inspiring a controversial group By Lamia Hassan

(Egypt Today Magazine, May 2011)

Contrary to popular perception, Salafis — unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad or Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiya — are not a faction, but a school of thought comprising individuals who follow a dogmatic approach to Islam.

Salafism is a form of al daawa (the call), and its adherents do not follow a specific leader or guide. They do share, however, the rules and curriculum that none of them deviates from — but the degree of observance of these rules and what they see as the uncompromising tradition of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ranges from extreme to moderate.

To understand the way they think, one understand how this fikr (thought) seeped into Egyptian society. The root of the word Salafis comes from the word salaf or ancestor and refers to the first three generations of Muslims who are considered exemplar models. The full reference is sometimes Al-Salaf Al-Saleh, or the Pious Ancestors — a phrase that is also remnant of early Islam.

The Salafi movement first emerged with Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal during the Abbasid era, circa the eighth century AD. The prominent scholar is also the founder of the Hanbali school of Islamic thought, credited with influencing the

rise of Salafism.

Following Ibn Hanbal came Ahmed Ibn Taymiyyah, who appeared after the fall of the Abbasid empire. He was stricter than Ibn Hanbal in terms of keeping to the verbal tradition of the earliest generations of Islam, down to the details of everyday living.

A third person who influenced the evolution of the Salafi movement, especially in its modern form, is Mohamed Ibn Abdel Wahhab, the 18th-century Saudi thinker and scholar who founded Wahhabism. The term Salafi first appeared in Egypt in the 19th century in Al-Azhar University through scholars such as Imam Mohamed Abdou and Gamal Eddin Al-Afghany.

Many believe that Salafism was imported by Egyptians returning home after living and working for decades in the Gulf, specifically Saudi Arabia. This ideology is clearly manifested in conservative dress codes such as the niqab (face veil) for women and white ankle-length robes for men.

 

Beliefs

 

In a nutshell, Salafis follow what they consider the purest form of Islam, seeking to emulate the version practiced during the time of the Prophet, Al-Sahaba (his companions), and the two generations following them.

They do not advocate violence, but are partial towards jihad. They do not believe in the separation of religion from rule, since they advocate politics and economics should be inspired by Sharia.

They do not approve attempts of innovation and favor of a more literal understanding of Islamic laws.

A common misconception, however, is that Salafis prohibit Muslims from visiting graveyards. They allow visiting the dead, but prohibit visits to shrines, practicing rituals or making supplication to the dead. They also do not approve of building mosques around them.

 

Role in Post-Mubarak Egypt

 

Salafis have built grassroots support in the past couple of decades, gaining popularity among various socioeconomic classes.

As with many other religious movements, Salafi practices and movements were tightly controlled under Mubarak’s rule. Their sheikhs were present in mosques, but their tongues were tied. Salafis satellite channels, heavily funded by Saudi Arabia, were mostly popular among adherents only.

Following the revolution, Salafis have become more visible. A group that has never taken part in the political life, the Salafis are now trying to create a political force. Ironically, they had always criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for focusing on politics arena, as opposed to religion.

Many citizens are concerned about the rise of Salafis, especially over signs of extremism spotlighted in the mainstream media. Some Salafi sheikhs have also taken a stance against those who voted ‘no’ on the March 19 constitutional referendum, claiming that Article 2, which guards Egypt’s Islamic identity, would be scrapped. et

Bad Luck Haunts Advertising

Television advertising expects to see a bad year following the revolution By Lamia Hassan

(Business Today Egypt, May 2011)

Although many local and international satellite channels saw a sharp rise in viewership as unrest swept through Egypt, most also experienced a huge drop in their television advertisement revenues. The wave of protests here, as well as in several of Egypt’s neighbors, shifted what citizens watched. Instead of tuning into their favorite sitcoms, viewers were constantly checking for updates on 24- hour news channels, eagerly awaiting the latest information as Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab nations descended into chaos.

Like many industries dealing with the ramifications of the revolution, ad agencies are witnessing a serious slowdown in business, especially those specializing in television advertising. They, like many, are holding out hope that cash flows will return to this once profitable industry by the end of 2011, but insiders say they will be lucky to salvage even 50% of their business.

A murky path

When the protests began on January 25, people did not expect anything to come of the demonstrations, which meant companies and financial institutions remained

open for business. But soon after, the demonstrations became violent and commerce shut down around Cairo for at least a week. Many of those businesses stayed closed for much longer, with some shuttering offices even after former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

For television advertisers, the situation [would have been] even more complicated. “During the 18 days [of the revolution] it would have been impossible to advertise for anything, as this was a poke at the country and the whole world, so you definitely would not be advertising for toothpaste or anything similar during that period,” says Naila Hamdy, professor of journalism and mass communications at the American University in Cairo. “And, following that there was an economic situation, where people were still not sure and also advertisers were still not sure how to advertise.”

Usually, TV ads are booked depending on the viewership of a program or channel. The most expensive TV ads would often garner huge audiences thanks to their placement during breaks on popular talk shows. The highest rated shows enjoyed the premium advertisers, with the largest number and most costly ads booked during the muchanticipated Ramadan mosalsalat season that boasts the highests viewership ratings all year.

During the revolution, talk shows that used to discuss human interest stories, with a smattering of news, social and cultural

activities and entertainment, shifted their focus to hard-news coverage, while others shut down completely.

“For a very brief period of time at the beginning of the revolution, some channels

banned ads, but this was maybe a week only, while after this they started accepting ads

again, but the advertisers’ appetite was very low, as they were very suspicious about advertising,” says Shaheer Farag, head of business management at UM Egypt. “Mobinil and a minimal number of clients, for example, went on air with relevant [pieces] about the revolution, but there was definitely a delay in advertising during this period of time.”

UM Egypt is an ad booking and buying agency. Its job is to tell advertisers where to put their ads as well as slotting the best time for them and then purchasing that air time on behalf of the company.

Farag says even after the 18-day revolution, some advertisers were still skeptical about conditions in Egypt and whether it was the right time to go on air, particularly since most of the programming was dedicated to revolution news coverage, which isn’t something most companies had appropriate material for. He says as of April, the sector has seen a 70% drop in revenues compared to the same period in 2010.

According to “Egyptian Revolution and Impact on the Egyptian Advertising Scene,” a presentation put together by Mindshare MENA media company last month, most advertisers abstained from airing ads during the first few days of the revolution, despite a dramatic increase in viewership.

At the end of the month, the number of viewers was still high as compared to previous rates. That’s when entertainment show ratings started going up again, bringing some advertisers back to the scene with programs dedicated to Egypt, the revolution and patriotism.

In March, viewer numbers started to return to normal, but ad agencies and on air bookers were still reeling from a 27% drop in February versus the 58% increase in television- advertising profits the year before. The presentation also pointed out that advertisers were split between airing material related to Egypt, patriotism and nationalism, announcing new corporate social responsibility projects or airing their usual lineup of ads.

“I do not really see a reason why the television advertising sector will not be affected like everything else in the country that was impacted by the current events in Egypt,” says Hamdy. “All businesses are affected at the moment, and I believe things will start improving again gradually when the economy starts improving too.”

Hamdy says though the actual revolution ended after the 18 days, its effects are still rippling outward. It seems every minute brings some change, which shows the situation is not stable for the media and advertising worlds.

Mindshare MENA’s study of television viewership and attitudes between Januaryand the beginning of March 2011 shows dubbed serials were the most popular programming, followed by talk shows and Arabic series during the third week of January. In the second and third weeks of February, the highest rated programs were talk shows, with most viewers tuning into Al-Ashera Masa’an on Dream channel and then programing on the Mehwar network. During the fourth week of February and the first week of March, talk shows again garnered the highests audiences. However, during that time, advertising numbers did nto improve.

Ramadan shift

But according to Farag, there is a possibility that the sector might not be able to recoup its losses during Ramadan because fewer new and innovative programs are expected to air.

“Out of the total profits of the year, 50% comes from the ads aired during Ramadan,” says Farag. “People this year are not expected to be going after new material, so for example if last year you had 60 series, this year you will have only 10, which will highly affect the sector.”

This is a serious charge in light of the role Ramadan plays for television advertisers. During an interview with Business Today during Ramdan last year, producer Gamal Al-Adl of Al-Adl for Media Production said the number of Ramadan series rises every year, as they have become a large part of the “advertising revenue cake” and that advertisers in Egypt and the Gulf spend a combined LE 1.3 billion during Ramadan.

Farag says there will likely be fewer shows this year because many of the series produced during Ramadan require government funding.

“As the government and the ministries are now going through dramatic changes, expect that there will definitely be a drop in the number of programs or series that they used to produce before,” says Hamdy. “Also, Egyptians will not be giving their full attention to series during Ramadan like previous years because the few months between the revolution and Ramadan (set to start in August) are not enough to make everything go back to normal.”

Oxford Business Group’s Egypt 2010: Media & Advertising report states average daily viewership hours jump to seven hours during Ramadan, as compared to four and a half hours the rest of the year. It also states Egypt has the largest number of televisions per capita in the Middle East and North Africa at 200 television sets per 1,000 people.

Due to the instability, there are no guarantees that the situation will improve any time soon, but industry watchers remain hopeful.

Hamdy she expects things may start improving after elections. “Once we have a president for the country, things will improve,” she says.

Farag adds that the advertising industry grew substantially over the past few years because of real estate projects, government- sponsored ads and high competition between different agencies. It will take time before advertisers are sure what direction they want to go.

“The quality will not be compromised, on the contrary, now people are expecting even better quality, but it all revolves around stability,” he says. “If we, by the end of this year, get to 50% of 2010 [profits], we will be very lucky.”bt