In Volume Two of “Egypt’s Craftsmen” (“Sanai’ayat Masr”), the journalist Omar Taher gives credit to the forgotten creators of commercial products that shaped Egypt’s daily life for decades.
The book, published by Dar Al-Karma, continues a project Taher began in 2016.
In it, Taher answers questions like, “Who made Egypt’s first potato chips?”; “who provided Egyptians with pocket tissues?”; “who made their running shoes?”; “who inspired them to draw near to God with coolers of water?”; and “who seeded in their hearts the love of Indian films?”, among others. He provides readers with the tale behind each of the industries in question.
Taher describes his book as an attempt to shed light on “people who contributed to shaping the features of Egypt and the history of its people, without getting their share of light, love, recognition and credit”.
The 400-page volume seems more like a historical album filled with his heroes’ biographies, photos, archival materials, and old commercials. Some of the materials were provided by these forgotten craftsmen’s families.
The Koldair Company
The book explores tales of the founders of prominent industries, such as the first Egyptian-made air conditioners. “It is hard to imagine how we could overlook the biography of Al-Taheri, the Mansoura-born engineer who founded the air-conditioning industry in Egypt, who sold everything he had to build Egypt’s first cooling factory,” Taher said.
Omar Taher’s book sheds light on “people who contributed to shaping the features of Egypt and the history of its people, without getting their share of light, love, recognition and credit”.
In his book, Taher relates how Al-Taheri, holding a mechanics degree from Newcastle University in England, returned to Egypt in the 1940s to work for a company that marketed foreign-made air conditioners. Motivated by his passion for the industry, Al-Taheri traveled to the United States, where he bought the supplies to start his own factory for cooling and air-conditioning products in Egypt.
Through his Koldair Company, Al-Taheri manufactured refrigerators, fans, and air conditioners.
Taher reviews examples of Koldair’s success, like cooling the historic Metro cinema hall, which became “Egypt’s first air-conditioned cinema”, announcing that on its gates and advertisements.
Dozens of similar tales are presented in the book’s 13 chapters on topics like heavy industries, textiles, shoemaking, and the food industry. It also includes tales of the makers of religious and historical TV shows, among others.
Chipsy Chips and Ramses Cars
Until the mid-1970s, making potato chips was a household chore, says the book. Housewives used to roast potatoes and pack them in bags to be sold by street vendors, especially in front of cinemas. The word “chipsy” was a name for this type of potato chips, rather than a brand.
That changed with Abdel-Aziz Ali, who founded the Chipsy potato chip factory. “The whole potato cultivation system in Egypt was transformed at the hands of Abdel-Aziz Ali and his partners, turning it into a systematic effort of farming, research, packaging, and transportation services, and the development of bright advertising campaigns.”
The Ramses automobile got its start in 1958. At a time when Egypt had only one car for every 275 people, the government “did not hesitate to deal seriously with the first proposal to manufacture an Egyptian popular car
The book also tells the story of the Ramses automobile. In 1958, the engineer George Hawi and the air officer Essam Abul-Ela first proposed manufacturing a small automobile to Egypt’s Ministry of Industry.
At the time, Taher writes, the United States had about one car for every three people, the British had one for every 20, and the French one for every 40 people. Egypt had only one car for every 275 people. The state considered that an insult. “It did not hesitate to deal seriously with the first proposal to manufacture an Egyptian popular car.”
The Ramses won the love of the Egyptian people. This was shown in proud newspaper headlines, such as: “the first car made in the country”.
Soap Operas and Religious Broadcasts
The book also visits the radio and television industries. It takes readers behind the scenes of writing and producing soap operas and presents the biography of Kamel El-Bouhi, founder of the Holy Quran Radio, one of the most popular radio stations.
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It also tells the story of Amina El-Sawy, whose religious television dramas opened the door to this kind of series. “El-Sawy was awaited at the airports of the Arab world every day in Ramadan,” says the book, referring to the delivery of taped television content from one country to another, before the Internet era.
Born in 1975, Taher has published a series of books that explore topics on the margins of Egyptian popular culture. Others titles of his include “Who Taught Abdel-Nasser to Smoke Cigarettes?”; “Radio Songs: A Personal Biography of Singing”; and “The Public Transportation Book: Personal Tales to Kill Time”.
His first novel, “Kohl and Cardamom,” was on the short list for the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature last year.
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