Egypt trembles as cheap Chinese pharaohs rule the souk

CAIRO, Nov 1, 2006 (AFP) – Figurines of King Tut, Ramses and Queen Nefertiti in Cairo’s famous Khan Khalili bazaar all bear the hallmarks of pharaonic regalia, from the goat-hair beards to the golden sceptre. But the slanting eyes framed by the ancient Egypian rulers’ trademark kohl lining betrays the statuettes’ Chinese origins.

While Egypt is increasingly betting on the irresistable rise of China’s economy for its own prosperity, the unbeatable prices of the Asian giant’s products are breaking into the last strongholds of local manufacturing.

“Over the past two or three years, the local market has been completely overrun by Chinese imports,” says Adel Meghwari, who has owned a souvenir shop in one of Khan Khalili’s meandering alleyways for 22 years.

The millions of souvenirs and trinkets snatched up by the busloads of tourists flocking to the Old Cairo souk each year are mostly manufactured in China, virtually spelling doom for the local handicrafts industry.

Meghwari randomly picks an object from his shelves.

“The price of this Chinese painted glass is 10 pounds (less than two dollars). The same one manufactured in Egypt would fetch about 30 pounds (or more than five dollars),” he explain