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HANDS ON Traditional Crafts at The City of the Dead in Cairo

Salah al-Nahas, book-binder

Salah started his professional career as an apprentice in a printing press owned by one Ahmad Mansy in the ‘Ataba district of Cairo. He then specialised in book binding, such was his destiny, he says. He has been in the binding profession for 40 years, out of which he spent 12 years working in the Qaitbey area. He owns a small printing shop close by, but it is closed now as Hasan found it too difficult to operate both places. Instead he installed a printing machine in his main shop, and intends to start using it soon. He used to print wedding invitations and official forms, but now works mostly on school textbooks. The disadvantage, according to Hasan, is that as schools work by semesters, the commissions only come twice a year, with no work for the other months. Hasan follows through all stages of book binding in his workshop, from stapling the pages to binding, trimming the edges, sorting and packing, then loading the truck that distributes finished books to bookshops. He thinks however that the job is tedious and does not bring him a good income. In the old days, he observes, one had to learn the secrets of the printing trade to practice it, but with modern technology anyone can now open a printing shop, so competition is stiff.

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