In Egypt, traditional doll and horse survive time, fatwas

Egyptians have enjoyed the sugar dolls made to mark the occasion of the birthday of prophet Muhammad.

In Egypt, traditional doll and horse survive time, fatwas

World Bulletin / News Desk

For hundreds of years, Egyptians have enjoyed the sugar dolls made to mark the occasion of the birthday of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. But the sweets aren't confined to bygone times – they are still made on a massive scale every year as part of festivities associated with the prophet's birthday, which Egypt will celebrate Monday.

"Doll-making is a tradition we inherited," Thabet Barghouta, a doll-maker and seller from Darb al-Barabrah, a Cairo district famous for handicrafts, told Anadolu Agency. "It has become part of Egypt's culture."

The dolls and horses were traditionally made of sugar, but, more recently, manufacturers started making them from plastic. But millions of Egyptians keep the tradition alive by buying sweets for their families, while also buying dolls for the girls and the miniature horses for the boys.

Sometimes, the dolls and horses reflect political developments in Egypt.

Last year, for example, most dolls were portrayed fully covered and wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf. Doll-makers appeared to have been affected by the political ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that gave Egypt its first democratically elected president in 2012 (and ousted by the military last summer).

This year, the dolls remain fully covered, Barghouta noted, to show that the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood did not necessarily mean the decline of Islam in Egypt.

The horses, however, appear to be more in demand this year.

Manufacturers have cleverly dubbed them "al-Sisi horses" in reference to Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The top general is viewed as a hero by millions of Egyptians for unseating elected president Mohamed Morsi last July.

Doll-maker Sameh Mohamed says that, by linking the dolls and horses to current political events, manufacturers like him are helping to serve society.

"By making a doll or horse bearing the general's name, I'm helping raise children's awareness about what this man did," Mohamed told AA.

Mohamed's assertions appear to be supported by the high demand for his dolls and horses.


Doll and toy-making, however, isn't the only businesses those like Mohamed and Barghouta are engaged in.

Both men, along with hundreds of others in the district, earn their living all year round by making the sweets and popcorn traditionally used by Egyptians to celebrate the birth of a new child.

This business, however, has suffered a downturn recently amid Egypt's persistent political and security woes.

"There is little demand for such sweets for birth celebrations," Mohamed said, "while few Egyptians can do without the dolls and the horses."

Festivities associated with the prophet's birthday are considered by some Islamic preachers to be idolatrous. Nevertheless, the occasion continues to be widely celebrated throughout the Muslim world, including Egypt.

Several preachers have issued fatwas (religious edicts) against the festivities, pointing out that Prophet Muhammad was not known to have celebrated his birthday during his lifetime.

Such edicts anger those like Mohamed, who notes that hundreds of Egyptian manufacturers and traders earn their living by making and selling items associated with the Prophet's birthday.

"Hundreds of families earn their living by making and selling these sweets and toys," he said. "And fatwas banning them don't make our lives any easier."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Ocak 2014, 17:07