CAIRO, March 22 (Xinhua) -- In Egypt, traditional colorful metal and glass lanterns are always among the items in high demand ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. However, this year, the inflation-stricken lantern market remains bleak.
"We are not selling well this season ... prices of raw materials have gone up which made lantern prices skyrocket," Hossam Mohammed, a lantern vendor in Old Cairo's al-Azhar district, told Xinhua.
The soaring prices have dented the lantern sales, the middle-aged man added.
At the old market, sellers put lanterns, known as fanoos in Arabic, of all shapes on display, but few people came to buy them.
"The market is busy, but customers do not really buy," Mohammed said, adding that the sales are less than half of the last season.
The fanoos originated in Egypt during the Fatimid caliphate hundreds of years ago when they served to light dark streets. They are now an indispensable element in the celebration of Ramadan.
Days ahead of the holy month, which starts on Thursday, Egyptians started to decorate their homes and streets with colorful lanterns. During the month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking from sunrise to sunset.
For almost a year, galloping inflation in Egypt has strained the budgets of Egyptian families. The annual inflation nationwide reached 32.9 percent in February, according to Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
Since early 2022, the Egyptian economy, which had yet to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, was dented by surging global food and oil prices.
Waleed Aboul-Agab, the owner of a lantern-making workshop, said they started their production late this season because of fewer orders.
Aboul-Agab, whose family has been in the business for decades, said handmade metal lantern makers are struggling to survive after imported plastic electric ones filled the markets.
"The prices of imported lanterns are competitive ... we are trying to lower our prices, but unfortunately the prices of metal, glass and paints have increased dramatically," he pointed out.
For consumers, many chose to buy less or give up purchasing lanterns at all for this Ramadan.
"The prices of lanterns are extremely high this year. They have at least doubled," Refaat al-Essiely, a civil servant, told Xinhua.
Al-Essiely said he chose the cheapest lantern since he cannot afford to buy a more expensive one.
"I used to buy lanterns for my five kids as well as lanterns for home decoration, but I decided to buy only one this year for my kids, because for them, Ramadan cannot be a happy month without lanterns," Al-Essiely said.