The Ninth And Tenth Century Dynasties
The most stable of the successor dynasties founded in the ninth and tenth centuries was that of the Fatimids, a branch of Shi'is. The Fatimids won their first success in North Africa, where they established a rival caliphate at Raqqadah near Kairouan and, in 952, embarked on a period of expansion that within a few years took them to Egypt.
For a time the Fatimids aspired to be rulers of the whole Islamic world, and their achievements were impressive. At their peak they ruled North Africa, the Red Sea coast, Yemen, Palestine, and parts of
Syria. Fatimid merchants traded with Afghanistan and China and tried to divert some of Baghdad's Arabian Gulf shipping to the Red Sea.
But the Fatimids' dreams of gaining control of the Islamic heartland came to nothing, partly because many other independent states refused to support them and partly because they, like the 'Abbasids in Baghdad, lost effective control of their own mercenaries. Such developments weakened the Fatimids, but thanks to a family of viziers of Armenian origin they were able to endure until the Ayyubid succession in the second half of the twelfth century - even in the face of the eleventh-century invasion by the Seljuk Turks.
Because a minor scion of the dynasty took refuge with the Mamluks in Egypt, the 'Abbasid caliphate continued in name into the sixteenth century. In effect, however, it expired with the Mongols and the capture of Baghdad. From Iraq the Mongols pressed forward into Syria and then toward Egypt where, for the first time, they faced adversaries who refused to quail before their vaunted power. These were the Mamluks, soldier-slaves from the Turkish steppe area north of the Black and Caspian Seas with a later infusion of Circassians from the region of the Caucuses Mountains.
The Mamluks had been recruited by the Ayyubids and then, like the Turkish mercenaries of the 'Abbasid caliphs, had usurped power from their enfeebled masters. Unlike their predecessors, however, they were able to maintain their power, and they retained control of Egypt until the Ottoman conquest in 1517. Militarily formidable, they were also the first power to defeat the Mongols in open combat when, in 1260, the Mongols moved against Palestine and Egypt. Alerted by a chain of signal fires stretching from Iraq to Egypt, the Mamluks were able to marshal their forces in time to meet, and crush, the Mongols at 'Ayn Jalut near Nazareth in Palestine.
In the early days of Islam, the extension of Islamic rule had been based on an uncomplicated desire to spread the Word of God. Although the Muslims used force when they met resistance they did not compel their enemies to accept Islam. On the contrary, the Muslims permitted Christians and Jews to practice their own faith and numerous conversions to Islam were the result of exposure to a faith that was simple and inspiring.
With the advent of the Umayyads, how ever, secular concerns and the problems inherent in the administration of what, by then, was a large empire began to dominate the attention of the caliphs, often at the expense of religious concerns - a development that disturbed many devout Muslims.
This is not to say that religious values were ignored; on the contrary, they grew in strength for centuries. But they were not always at the forefront and from the time of Mu'awiyah the caliph's role as "Defender of the Faith" increasingly required him to devote attention to the purely secular concerns which dominate so much of every nation's history.
Nevertheless, Mu'awiyah was never able to reconcile the opposition to his rule nor solve the conflict with the Shi'is. These problems were not unmanageable while Mu'awiyah was alive, but after he died in 680 the partisans of 'Ali resumed a complicated but persistent struggle that plagued the Umayyads at home for most of the next seventy years and in time spread into North Africa and Spain.
For all that, the Umayyads, during the ninety years of their leadership, rarely shook off their empire's reputation as a mulk - that is, a worldly kingdom - and in the last years of the dynasty their opponents formed a secret organization devoted to pressing the claims to the caliphate put forward by a descendant of al-'Abbas ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib, an uncle of the Prophet. By skillful preparation, this organization rallied to its cause many mutually hostile groups in Khorasan and Iraq and proclaimed Abu al-'Abbas caliph.
Marwan ibn Muhammad, the last Umayyad caliph, was defeated and the Syrians, still loyal to the Umayyads, were put to rout. Only one man of importance escaped the disaster - 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Mu'awiyah al-Dakhil, a young prince who with a loyal servant fled to Spain and in 756 set up an Umayyad Dynasty there.
Fatimid Period (969-1171)
The Fatimid Dynasty traced their lineage from the Prophet's daughter Fatima Zahra and her husband Ali
Ibn Abu Talib. They embraced Shi'a doctrines which rejected the legitimacy of the first three Khalifs of Islam, Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman, who they claimed to be usurpers of Ali's right to succeed the Prophet in leading Islam.
At first the Shi'a, or Partisans of Ali, were loyal members of the Muslim umma who simply disagreed with the political decision to bypass Ali. However Umayyad machinations which lead to the assassination and martyrdom of Ali and his sons Hassan and Hussein, hardened Shi'a attitudes and led to a religious schism with metaphysical overtones which has persisted to this day.
The Fatimids had separated themselves from the Sunni Khalifate and set up their own western khalifate which, with their conquest of Egypt in AD969 extended across North Africa. The Fatimids established their imperial capital within the walls of a newly built imperial city called Al Qahira,
Egypt flourished under the Fatimids who ruled behind the walls of their imperial city, maintaining the mystery of distance from their subjects. It was not until the reign of Khalif Al-Hakim that the Fatimid decline began.
Although beginning his rule beneficiently, emerging from his palace to meet his subjects to get a better understanding of their needs, Al-Hakim degenerated into a murderous despot. He executed anyone to whom he took a disliking and ruled with insane caprice. He supported the Byzantines against Roman Christians and the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which was a pretext for the First Crusade.
Fatimid rule continued over Egypt for another 150 years and the country continued to prosper. However their empire gradually declined due to famine, internal troubles and external pressure from the Seljuk sultans who captured Syria from the Fatimids, and the Christian crusading armies which conquered Fatimid Palestine and the Lebanon. To protect the remainder of their diminishing empire, the Fatimids collaborated with the Franks, an act which outraged the Seljuk Sultan Nurad'din who sent an expedition to overthrow the Fatimids.
The Sultan deputized his general Shirkoh to repel the Fatimid and Frank armies and conquered Upper Egypt, sending his nephew Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubi to capture Alexandria, thus opening the way for the Ayyubid Dynasty.
Ayyubid Rule (1171-1250)
Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubi ("Saladin") assumed control of Egypt upon the death of the last Fatimid Khalif in 1171. When the Crusaders attacked Egypt, burning part of Cairo, Salah al-Din fortified the city and built the Citadel. His reign was a golden age for Egypt and Salah al-Din is revered as one of the greatest heroes of Islam, for his humility, personal courage, brilliant military and administrative mind and for defeating the Christian armies and treating the vanquished with dignity.
Salah al-Din spent eight years of his 24-year reign in Cairo during which time he established the Seljuk institution of the madrassa, built hospitals and other infrastructure. Salah al-Din also introduced Mamlukes (an Arabic word meaning "owned"), Turkic slaves from the Black Sea region who had been raised as mercenary soldiers. Under Salah al-Din and his successors the Mamlukes were given a measure of freedom to own land and raise families and some rose to positions of power and influence.
Upon the death of Salah al-Din in 1193, he was succeeded by his brother, al-Adil, following a protracted succession dispute. Al-Adil died in Syria, upon hearing the news of the crusaders' seizure of the chain bridge (burj al-silsila) at Damietta in 1218. He was succeeded by his son and Salah al-Din's nephew, al-Kamil, who drove back the Fifth Crusade. His successor, Sultan Ayyub, increased the size of his
Mamluke army and married a slave girl called Shagarat Ad-Durr (Tree of Pearls). When Ayyub died, his wife became the first woman to rule Egypt since Cleopatra. She was the last ruler of the Ayyubids. Prophetic injunctions against women rulers placed Shagarat Ad-Durr in an untenable position and the Abbassids forced her to take a husband. When her new husband, Aybak, planned to take a second wife, Shagarat Ad-Durr had him murdered. She was assassinated shortly after this and the Mamluke military commander Baybars assumed control, ushering in the Mamluke period.
The Mamluke Period (1250-1517)
Baybars, one of the great Ayyubid commanders, seized power in the aftermath of Shagarat Ad-Durr's murder but his heirs were murdered by Qalawun, another Mamluke who established the Bahri Mamluke dynasty, named after the Mamluke garrison along the Nile River (Bahr Al-Nil).
During his reign Sultan Qalawun became a great patron of architecture and constructed mosques, fortresses and other buildings in Cairo. Qalawun also established relations many foreign countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. Qalawun's son and successor, Mohammed An-Nasir who reigned for nearly half a century, from 1294-1340, was also a great patron of architecture.
The Mamluke armies of Sultan Mohammed An-Nasir shocked the seemingly unstoppable Mongol armies by defeating them on the Syrian battlefield. The descendants of Mohammed An-Nasir were weak and the Turkish Bahri Mamluke dynasty gradually lost control of the sultanate which was seized by the Circassian Mamluke Barquq who established the Burgi Mamluke dynasty, named after the Mamluke garrison set beneath the Citadel In Cairo. Although Sultan Mohammed An-Nasir had made a treaty with the Mongols, they remained on the borders of Syria and Sultan Barquq campaigned against the Mongols to drive them out of the Near East altogether.
Heavy taxation was levied to pay for these campaigns, debilitating the economy of Egypt. Conditions were exacerbated by a plague that swept through the country during the reign of Barquq's son Farag. It was not until the reign of Sultan Barsbey that Egypt regain its power. Barsbey recognized the rising power and potential threat of the Ottoman Turks and established good relations with them. He also extended Mamluki trade. Nevertheless, the Mamluke economy remained unstable for nearly a century until the reign of Sultan Qait Bey, another great Mamluki builder, who constructed mosques, madrassas and other buildings throughout the empire.
The 46th Mamluki sultan was Qansuh Al Ghuri who continued the Mamluki architectural tradition but saw his economy crash after European traders began using the Cape of Good Hope for their spice trade rather than trading through Cairo. To add insult to injury, the Ottomans attacked Mamluke Syria and Sultan Qansuh fell in battle in 1516. The following year Tuman was executed by the Ottomans, signalling the end of the Mamluke Empire and the beginning of Ottoman rule, but the Mamlukes remained a powerful force within Egypt throughout the Ottoman period and beyond.
It also changed the nature of the Khalifate from elected to hereditary rule. But these wars did set the stage for the third civil war, which would have considerable effect.
The third civil war was a reaction to the extravagance, decadence and what was seen as a deterioration of Islamic faith in the Umayyads rulers. In addition, the civil war brought rulers to the Islamic world which for the first time were not Arabic, but rather Persian and Turks, and Egypt was now ruled from Baghdad. This civil war would create a shift in ruling families, from Umayyads to Abbasid. More importantly, it would give Egyptians their first taste of the Shi'i form of Islam. Most Egyptians prior to this, throughout most of their
Islamic history and today, are orthodox Sunni.
In 779, Abu Salih became the first Turkish-born governor. He was classified as Arabic, but was born a Turk. The Abbasid rule was at once more restrictive for the individuals and more open intellectually. New laws were laid down for living, behavior and dress, and these laws were enforced. All doors and gates were ordered to be left open, however if anyone was caught stealing, they were beheaded. The rulers in Baghdad, including the famous Harun al Rashid, opened their court to Greek classical studies such as the works of Aristotle, as well as poetry from India and Persia. In fact, the Muslim scholars did much more than simply preserve ancient learning. They also expanded upon it, adding to the sciences of medicine, mathematics and astronomy, among others. It is understandable that Islamic intellectuals would flourish at a time when the west was floundering in ignorance. Mohammed's teachings insisted on literacy for all at a time when most leaders cared nothing about the education of the common people. Some of this enlightenment was transferred to the west, which kindled a rebirth of learning and eventually led Christian Europe out of the dark ages and into the Renaissance.
One of the most significant trends established by the Abbasid rule were the use of Turkish war slaves. Later, they would be called the Mamelukes and would be used as a mercenary army, then even as governors and rulers of Egypt. This went on until Mohammed Ali disposed of them in the early 19th century. At first these slave soldiers were simply an accident of the Abbasid system of educating "acquired" children in the court to grow up into a loyal bodyguard. This civil service was therefore without roots in the society itself, so they could be trusted to do as they were told, no matter what was happening outside of the court. These slaves were not beaten, or usually made to do brutal work, but were instead trained in good soldiering. Yet as time passed, they began to rule the rulers, and finally, one of them set himself up in Fustat as the master and not the slave. This was Ahmad Ibn Tulun.
The Tulunids under the Abbasids, Egypt was often loosely governed by the Baghdad Khalif's appointees, many of whom did not rule from Egypt. The administration in Egypt began to disintegrate, with taxes becoming intolerable and inflation on the rise. In the 868, the khalif sent a Turkish governor, Ahmad Ibn Tulun to take charge of the situation. Ibn Tulun was the son of a Turkish slave from Bokhara who was given as a present to the Khalif Mamun in 815. His son, became educated in the highest traditions of the period, and earned considerable respect for his brave and loyal service to the Khalif. He soon consolidated the government, steadied the economy and imposed order. But seeing better uses for Egypt's treasury at home, he sent less and less of the tax revenues to Baghdad. In 868 he declared his independence from the Baghdad Khalifate, but he was also careful to maintain ties with the Abbasids. Actually, he was intelligent enough to maintain the trade with the East which made him rich. It is said that he had to borrow money to make the original trip to Fustat, but by 870, he needed new quarters to house all of his soldiers, ministers, wives and slaves. Therefore, like all notable rulers before him, he also established a new city called al-Qatai (the Quarters).
Everything seemed to change for Khumaraweh after his favorite wife, Bouran, died. He had built the House of Gold for her. In 896, he was strangled in his bed by his servants and concubines. His bodyguard and lion were not able to save him. His killers were crucified. He was taken home to Fustat and buried near his father, somewhere at the foot of Mukattam.
Egypt was soon engulfed in corruption, while famine and the plague swept the nation. The Abbasids had once again gained strength, and they sent a soldier named Mohammed Ibn Sulyman to regain control of the country, which he did in 905. Mohammed Ibn Sulyman took four months to devastate El-Qatai. Over one hundred and sixty years later, a wall was built around El-Qatai and El Askar to hide them from the rest of the city. Today all that is left is the mosque. The Abbasid's intermediate rule only lasted for thirty years, until the Fatimid conquest of 969.