Wood crafting - File photo
CAIRO – 10 June 2017: The Mediterranean town of Damietta is known throughout Egypt and the Middle East for its traditional furniture and woodworking industries.
Thousands of Damiettans have always found work in this field, with knowledge of the trade passed down through the generations.
The outbreak of World War I curtailed Damietta’s economic output as a key trading port, but after the end of the conflict the city flourished once more to become one of the most important centers for furniture production in the region.
However Damietta’s long artisan heritage is now endangered due to the spread of the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine. CNC machines use a computer to measure and cut materials needed for furniture construction and can be preprogrammed to complete specific tasks to precision quality.
The machine usually retails at around LE 1 million ($5555.99).
Adel Al-Bohar, a Damietta furniture worker, stated that the art of handmade furniture design and decoration is facing extinction due to the usage of CNC machines in workshops, meaning a human work force is no longer needed. He explained that the popularity of the machine is partially due to the low installment price many private supply companies sell the machine with.
Furniture producer Shoukry Al-Baramony shares the same view as Al-Bohar. He explains that the workers who used to design and cut furniture were considered artists or craftsmen and would be able to earn a decent living wage. However, after the spread of CNC machines in Damietta, the craftsmen role became limited. Where he previously earned around LE 100 ($5.56) per day, Al-Baramony now receives only LE 20 ($1.11) to feed his family daily. Earning LE 200 in one week is now considered lucky.
Furniture dealer Ehab Al-Hadak complained that Egypt has only just woken up to the threat that automated production poses to hand-crafted artistry. He called for a limitation to be imposed on the number of machines imported into the country as the only way to solve the unemployment that the spread of CNC machines has caused.
In 2016 the Governor of Damietta, Dr. Ismail Abdel Hamid Taha, issued Law 882 which approved the issue of licenses to work with CNC machines. Before this law many workshops would use these machines without any official approval. However, it is clear that more steps need to be taken if the problems facing Damietta’s furniture industry are to be sufficiently addressed in the future.
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